As horse owners, there are several reasons why we need to be aware of our horse’s mouth and teeth and get them routine check ups from the dentist. Horses are herbivores and as such, their teeth are designed for chewing on coarse grasses. The mastication (chewing and grinding) process naturally wears down teeth, so horses’ teeth were designed to grow continuously up until they are 25 to 30 years old. However, the process of domestication has shifted the horse’s diet away from grazing and towards eating scheduled meals of grain and hay. Thus, horses are less likely to wear their teeth down adequately and, even if the teeth do wear, it is very uncommon for them to be worn down evenly.
Horses lower row of cheek teeth are closer together than the upper row of cheek teeth. While this attribute is important in the wild, it often causes problems in the domestic horse. When the horse chews in the normal sideways motion, it creates points on the edges of the teeth. These are called hooks, and these hooks can become sharp and even cause ulcerations in the mouth. Luckily, teeth can be made even again through a dental process called floating! This process uses a dental rasp to file off sharp edges and make the teeth level again. Although the required frequency of floating teeth is dependent on the individual horse’s lifestyle, most horses over the age of 5 will benefit from annual dental care.
One of the first signs that your horse is having discomfort in its mouth is if it is being picky about eating, not wanting to eat, or dropping a lot of feed. A horse experiencing dental problems may also start to lose body condition or develop behavioral problems. It is common to see trainers and riders complaining about a bit not working or their horse being too sensitive in the mouth; however, sometimes it’s just a point that has developed on the horse’s tooth that is hitting the bit and causing it to become sensitive and painful.
Whether your horse is showing signs of dental problems or not, funds allocated to equine dentistry is money well-spent. A complete oral health plan will help maximize your horses’ performance and optimize his comfort and well-being. Find a certified equine dentist and set an appointment once a year for your horse to be examined.