Dental care for horses differs significantly from that of humans or even cats and dogs. Due to their vegetarian diet and manner of eating, a horse’s teeth work more like a gristmill, constantly grinding and mashing down their food in a figure eight pattern. The horse’s teeth are therefore designed to keep growing as an adaptation to the manner in which they eat and develop sharp points on the cheek sides of the upper teeth and tongue sides of the lower.
Therefore, horses usually need a dental checkup every six months to have their teeth floated (evened out) in order for the horse’s bite to remain healthy, and so that their food is evenly ground for healthy swallowing and digestion. Newborn foals have their gums and tongue checked, even before the first teeth erupt, in order to evaluate and assess possible bite issues.
What You Need to Know about Horse Dental Care
If your horse seems to be reluctant to eat, or show any signs of pain while eating, this may be a sign that his or her teeth have developed sharp points or hooks that are poking the roof of the mouth or insides of the cheeks. The occlusal (grinding) surfaces that do the grinding will usually be worn down normally, but most horses do not have completely even grinding/bite patterns, so these hooks and points can develop and need to be filed down (floated) regularly.
If your horse seems to drop a lot of food while eating, the molars may not be meeting up properly, allowing food to escape. If your horse chokes or gags on food, this can also be a sign that the teeth are not grinding the food down enough and that there is a problem that requires horse dentistry. A combination of bad breath and difficulty eating can signal that your horse may be suffering from horse periodontal disease and/or tooth decay.
During a horse dental checkup, Dr. Clapp will sedate your horse in order to perform a comprehensive oral assessment and floating. We like it DARK, a stall or run in shed that provides a quiet dark place is needed to allow optimal visualization of your horses mouth. A speculum will be used to keep the horse’s mouth open so that we can rinse out and examine each tooth, the gums, tongue and all of the mouth’s tissues for inflammation, odors, lesions, etc. The speculum is similar to what a bite block is for human patients that go to the dentist. It provides a resting place for the front teeth allowing the jaw to relax or chew without harming Dr Clapp or those brave clients that wish to feel those sharp points prior to dentistry and afterwards.
Dental health is very important for good horse health and wellness. It can reduce colic, ensure proper weight gain and nutritional intake as well as reduce pain that may cause ulcers or bad behavior. As our equine companions are living longer their teeth need to last longer. Dental infections can cause a reduction in their longevity and body condition scores. Be sure to have us evaluate your horse at least yearly and twice a year if abnormalities are noted. Do not hesitate to call if any problems arise between scheduled appointments.