How much do you care about your horse’s dental health? Has it ever crossed your mind to find out whether your horse’s teeth are in good condition?
There are many interesting facts about equine teeth. Knowledge is power, they say. You can only appreciate the unique dentition of horses when you take time to study them. Your effort to breed a healthy horse is not enough if you neglect their dental well-being. As human teeth need proper care, so do horse teeth.
This article explains the dental features of horses. It talks about common dental problems horses are prone to and their treatments. You will also learn to recognize how horses behave when their dental health is at risk.
Baby Teeth And Permanent Teeth
Horses have two different sets of teeth, like human beings. These include baby teeth and permanent teeth. The baby teeth are also known as deciduous teeth. The baby teeth or deciduous teeth are the first set of teeth you see in a foal’s mouth when it is born. In most cases, these teeth become visible a week or two after the foal is born. But they will be replaced by the permanent teeth. This usually occurs after the second or third year of birth.
There are 24 deciduous teeth total. By the time the horse hits five years old, the baby teeth will all be replaced by the permanent teeth.
Sometimes, a foal’s baby teeth don’t shed on their own. When this happens, you will need the help of an equine dentist or veterinarian. Unless you are trained to do this, you shouldn’t remove the caps on your own. There are qualified vets around who are trained to carry out this operation. They understand how to go about the procedure without causing injury to the animal.
The permanent teeth will continue to grow for most of the horse’s life. This growth will end when the horse gets old. An old horse may develop noticeable gaps when their teeth fall out. This condition signals aging in horses. It may lead to serious health problems such as weight loss and quidding.
Quidding occurs when a horse is unable to grind and chew its food. As a result, it spits out wet bundles of hay. It is this condition that may result in the horse’s weight loss. This is because it doesn’t have the nutrients it needs in the required quantity.
Quidding is not a condition you should overlook in your horse. If it continues for long, it will further worsen the health of your horse. And it may lead to the eventual death of the affected horse.
Arrangement And Types Of Horse’s Teeth
Horses have a simple dentition. A horse’s teeth are divided into incisors and cheek teeth.
The incisors are the set of teeth located in the front part of the horse’s mouth. They are very visible. The incisors are the first to grow by the time a foal starts developing its deciduous teeth. They are also the first to shed by the time the permanent teeth are replacing the baby teeth. Horses use their incisors to clip or grasp the grass as they graze. They have developed their incisors to grasp and tear off feed.
Like horse’s other types of teeth, incisors are usually long and strong. The incisors are rooted in the gum. They grow to replace teeth that are lost to erosion or wear. But, incisors can be damaged by blows that are capable of cracking the tooth. A horse has six incisors in both the upper and lower front part of their mouth. This makes a total of 12 incisors.
The Cheek Teeth
Molars and premolars make up the cheek teeth. They can be found right inside the cheek of a horse. The cheek teeth are not as visible as the incisors. They are much wider than the incisors. Horses use their cheek teeth for grinding food particles. The grinded particles become the bolus. It is formed around the throat before the horse finally swallows it.
Humans grind and chew their food before swallowing it. The cheek teeth enable the horse to start the process of digestion straight from the mouth. Effective digestion will not take place if the feed is not chewed.
Horses usually move their jaw in a circular manner while chewing their feed. As mentioned earlier, the grinding is to reduce the length and size of the fodder or hay the horse swallows. This enhances proper digestion. The horse will have reduced the feed to about ½ an inch, making it easy to convert the food into useful energy. Any waste is excreted.
It is abnormal to find pieces of grass or hay that are longer in the feces of a horse. If you do, then it may mean that your horse is having some dental problems. It is this issue that prevents it from chewing properly. This should not be ignored. Try to contact your vet on time. They can conduct a check-up on your horse.
The cheek teeth, molars and premolars are rooted in the gum. They also usually extend to the bottom part of the bone and are wider and longer. They enable the horse to chew and grind their food. The horse has three premolars and three molars. These are located at the top and bottom of each side of the cheek, making the total number of teeth 24. On rare occasions, a horse may have an extra molar. But this is very rare.
This unique dentition sometimes creates serious dental problems for horses. This will be covered in more detail later in this article.
Important Facts To Note About Your Horse’s Teeth
Let’s look at some important facts about your horse’s teeth. These facts will help you understand what to do to take good care of your horse’s dental health. Some of these facts may sound common or trivial. But sometimes, the little things matter the most. So, here’s a list of some important things you need to know about horse’s teeth:
i. Horse’s teeth grow continuously
Horses’ teeth continue to grow throughout most of their lives. That is, the teeth regenerate whenever a part erupts or wears away. This regeneration is necessary. It gives the horse the ability to grow the teeth it needs for tearing, grinding and chewing its feed. But, the teeth stop growing in a horse that gets old. In this situation, the teeth get worn down. In a situation like this, the owner of the horse will have to feed it with extruded ‘’pre-chewed’’ senior feeds. It is necessary to use this method because the horse no longer has the dental strength it needs. This will remove the need to break its feed into absorbable particles.
ii. The horse teeth may wear down unevenly
This condition is inevitable in some horses. Eruption or wear sometimes occurs as a result of constant grinding of the horse’s check teeth. Also, it is important to note that horses don’t chew in an up and down motion, like human beings. They chew in a sideways or circular motion. This leads to their teeth wearing down in an uneven pattern.
As a result, they end up developing hooks and points. When this happens, an effort to float the pointy teeth needs to be made. This will help to avoid dental-related crises. Such dental-related crises include mouth sores and painful chewing. It may also include injuries to others while playing. Floating is the process of filing down the pointy teeth. When a veterinarian mentions the word “float,” they’re talking about filing down a pointy tooth.
iii. Horses don’t have nerves inside their teeth
Horses don’t feel pain when their teeth are being filed. They also don’t feel pain when other surgical operations are being carried out on their teeth. This is because they don’t have nerves in their teeth. The equine dentist sedates the affected horse to keep it calm. They remain relaxed throughout the floating operation. With the help of a special halter, the vet positions the horse’s head up. Then a mouth speculum is used to keep the horse’s mouth open. Once this is done, the vet uses either a manual approach or a power tool to flatten the pointy teeth in the horse’s mouth.
Humans are not designed that way. There are many nerves in human teeth. That’s why people feel pain when they have their teeth removed or operated on. With or without the sedation, a horse doesn’t feel pain. Sedation is only done on it to keep it relaxed. With that, the floating procedure will go on without interruption.
iv. The Horses’ teeth start with deciduous teeth
Like humans, horses start with milk teeth. The milk teeth appear after the foal is born. It will have totaled 24 by the time the foal is a year old. These 24 teeth include incisors, molars and premolars. Permanent teeth replace them over time as the foal grows older. This happens naturally. The owner of the horse can invite a vet to remove the milk teeth to allow the permanent teeth to replace them. This will need to happen if the shedding doesn’t occur on its own.
The stages in horse’s dental development explains why their young cannot tear or chew certain feeds. Each stage corresponds with their phase of development. And each stage requires unique attention. Horse care may appear daunting. But it is not as tough as many think. It is simple if you can arm yourself with useful information. It guides you on how to rear your horses without hassles.
Common Dental Problems in Horses
Horse’s teeth get their strength from cementum. The cementum is an important material in tooth formation. It is a major constituent of the hypsodont teeth found in modern horses.
Equine teeth have an interweaving fold of hard enamel and dentin. There’s contact each time the horse chews or grinds food. The enamel is very hard. Its intestine is used for grinding food particles. It converts larger feed into smaller form that gets absorbed.
So, when a horse is chewing, the chewing surfaces must have enamel-to-enamel contact. Enamel-to-enamel contact will be disrupted if there’s an offset. This can happen as a result of abnormal eruption or wear. It can also be due to unnatural dental growth. This means the hard enamel is forced to come in contact with much softer dentin. When this happens, the dentin will wear faster. This leads to a speedy deformation of the soft tooth.
The continuous eruption or wearing of teeth will result in dental problems. It will also result in diseases of oral cavity as the horse ages. Unlike humans, horses hardly suffer from tooth decay or serious gum diseases. The continuous eruption of teeth often leaves the horse with an unique dental crisis.
An eruption or wearing of a tooth naturally leaves behind an empty socket in the gum of the affected tooth. When this happens, the opposite tooth comes in contact with the empty socket left behind. This condition may cause the dominant tooth to continue to wear into the opposite arcade. This development impacts the opposite teeth. This condition can lead to mouth pain and an abnormal chewing pattern.
A horse that is suffering from either of these conditions may experience weight loss. This is due to the shortage of food intake. This happens as a result of the mouth pain and abnormal chewing pattern. In the future, the horse may begin to exhibit symptoms. These can include nasal discharge, foul-smelling breath, facial swelling, and more. These missing teeth and abnormal chewing patterns can magnify the horse’s pain. Efforts should be made soon to ask a vet for the appropriate treatment.
Other dental problems horses are prone to may include infection and gum disease. Some horses are strong. They may not display any symptoms of dental problems in time. A common sign of a tooth problems is resistance to the bridle. Other common signs include:
- Excessive bit chewing
- Head tossing
- Blood or foul odor in the mouth
- Loss of feed from mouth or undigested food particles in manure
Horses experiencing pain in the mouth will have an attitude during rides.
How To Take Care Of Your Horse’s Teeth
If your horse exhibits any of the earlier stated symptoms, you may need to consult a vet. This could be a warning sign and it is important to act fast. Don’t wait until the horse is ill before you invite an equine dentist over.
High and low sections will form when a missing tooth leads to the eruption of a dominant tooth. This condition is known as wave mouth. In this case, the dominant tooth is cut to the level of other teeth in the arcade. The opposite surface that has been worn away is left to grow back to the level of the other teeth in the arcade. You shouldn’t make the mistake of leveling the opposite arcade that has worn out. This won’t prevent the condition from becoming worse.
As the horse ages, the incisors will also continue to erupt. These teeth can become loose or wear abnormally. When this happens, it causes pain for the horse. It is advisable to remove the incisors. Uneven incisors will prevent the normal side-to-side chewing motion.
Incisors that are too long will inhibit the normal occlusion of the molars and premolars. This means it is necessary to examine and treat the incisors accordingly. To do this, you need a qualified vet to handle each stage of the procedure.
It is also important to have your horse undergo regular medical check-up. This gives you an idea of how healthy your horse is.
You need to pay attention to the dental health of your horse. If you see your horse as a valuable asset, then it is worth taking good care of. You should always create time to examine your horse’s teeth. Check their chewing pattern. Contact a vet for help immediately if you see something is not right with your horse.
A healthy horse is priceless.