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Equine Dental Care An Important Part Of Management

Apr 12, 2008
Often care of your horse's teeth is not thought of until there is a problem. There are various points in a horse's life that the teeth may become a particular problem.

Young horses that lose teeth and have new ones coming in can be fussy. "Wolf" teeth appear more commonly in stallions and geldings but mares have had them also - and can create problems with bitting. Improper dental care can lead to poor condition, bitting and riding problems, colic, increased feed costs and a host of other problems.

Simply having the vet out once a year to check teeth, physical exam, Coggins test and unless you do it yourself cleaning the sheath of geldings and stallions is a minimal investment and should be done. Regarding dental problems this can often catch problems early. There are occasionally horses that need floated twice per year, and some horses that will need a visit from an equine dentist.

Watch your horse when he eats - does he salivate excessively? Drop bits of feed? Is there undigested feed coming through in the manure. Are there lumps under the jawbone where new teeth are coming in? Does the horse have an overshot or undershot jaw? Does he stretch his head out or tilt it to the side when chewing? They might toss the head while under saddle or fight the bit excessively. This is telling you he hurts - listen! All of these are signs of dental issues that need attention.

Often uneven wear means "hooks" form on the teeth where they don't meet exactly. These can be very sharp and cut into the horse's cheek as he chews - to deal with it he'll sometimes stretch or tilt his head to keep his cheek from getting in the way. Some horses will avoid being bridled, are uncomfortable carrying their head and relaxing their jaw as needed for many performance classes. The use of a noseband makes this problem worse, as there is no escape from the pain for the horse.

For most horses a manual "floating" of the teeth is enough. A large rasp is inserted in the mouth and used to file off sharp points. This is sometimes done with a mild anesthetic.

Horses with more in depth problems often get a visit from an equine dentist. This can involve more extensive file work or, more commonly, heavier anesthetic and power tools used to more quickly grind the sharp points and poor teeth structure. Occasionally a horse neglected will have hooks form and in time will shear off part of the tooth. One stallion actually had half of a back tooth broken off, with half remaining. Little wonder he was having problems keeping weight on. Removing the half and updating his dental work made it easier for him to chew and in turn properly digest his food.

From 2-5 years the horse will have up to 24 teeth coming in sometimes over a dozen at a time. Is it little wonder some horses said to be "resisting" and "stubborn" and "ornery" have a change of attitude when instead of a new piece of equipment to restrain the head a trainer checks the teeth and corrects problems? When a horse begins behaving and is cooperative and suddenly is resistant instead of reaching for that noseband, spurs or different bridle - check his teeth. His formative training years is also developing his mouth - physically as well as trying to cooperate with us. It's advised that during this time twice per year exams are good - proper dental care is every bit as important as care of a youngster's legs and joints.

Once the horse is mature his problems won't be nearly as bad if he's been on a regular program. Once per year checks will probably be enough then until he gets older and his mouth begins changing again.

Horses on sandy pastures can have more wear than those without the abrasiveness of their environment. Horses that chew wood, crib or have other issues can be expected to need more dental care than those without those habits. A normal horse on pasture can often grind his teeth pretty evenly, thus needing minimal care. The structure of the mouth often isn't considered when breeding - yet poor mouth and jaw conformation can predispose the foal to problems. I've known one breeder to further take surgical steps to correct an overbite - so it doesn't show but it doesn't mean that, genetically, it's not there. That youngster, now an adult, will be bred resulting in additional dental issues being created.

Older horses and especially older horses that haven't received proper dental care throughout their lives can be especially prone to problems. Horses missing teeth can have wads of grass or hay they try to eat but can't. They might tip their head to the side when eating, there might be swelling on the face or jaw and a bad odor on the mouth. The faster you correct his issues the better he can deal with the normal problems of aging.

Some horses have teeth so bad in older age that special equine senior rations are needed. Some people use shredded, soaked beet pulp to add fiber to an older horse's diet. In some cases a product like Purina's Equine Senior is added to the soaked beet pulp, forming a diet that is easy for the horse to eat with minimal chewing needed. An easy way to soak beet pulp is put it in a large kitchen colander - in the wash rack run water over it, soaking it thoroughly. Leave it to soak at least 20 minutes - it will "puff up" and nearly double in size from the dry state. Remove anything not eaten by the next morning and fix up only what you feed in one feeding. Left to sit it can turn sour.

Regular dental care for your horse isn't a luxury - it's a necessity. It adds years to your horse's life, it makes his time with you more comfortable, it's something that makes sense to pay attention to.

If your horse gets fussy under saddle, before reaching for nosebands consider if his teeth are bothering him.
About the Author
Ron Petracek was raised in southern Idaho with horses and the great outdoors. With this continued passion He now shares through a a vast equine network. Learn more by clicking the links below. Amazing Equine Network System - Buy Sell or trade anything equine related. Get More Horse Classified coverage and distribution with less cost and work. Hot..New..Equine Social Community
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