An uncommonly known fact is that periodontal disease (disease of the tissues that support the teeth) is THE most common disease of the horse. It is even more common than colic, osteoarthritis or even greasy heel. So the chances are, your horse is likely to have some ‘tooth ache’ they can’t tell you about.

Horses often don’t show obvious signs of dental disease until it is very advanced. Signs like unpleasant breath, quidding (balling of feed in the cheek), dropping feed, excessive yawning and loss of condition or weight can all be signs that your horse has advanced dental disease. Sharp points and other issues causing pain can result in performance issues such as headshaking, resisting the bit or hanging.

Unlike humans, horses have hypsodont teeth – meaning that they are worn away by grinding and to replace this they continually erupt from the reserve tooth crown that sits within the jaw. As the horse gets older, these reserve roots get shorter until they eventually grow out and are worn away. Horses also have an upper jaw that is slightly wider than the lower jaw, meaning that as the teeth are worn down against each other during chewing, the outside of the upper set of cheek teeth and the inside of the lower set of cheek teeth often develop sharp points which can cause cheek ulceration, periodontal disease and pain. Regular smoothing of these edges (floating or rasping) makes the mouth much more comfortable. This can be done with either hand instruments or motorised tools (the use of motorized dental tools is restricted to veterinarians).

Malocclusions (overgrown and misaligned teeth) can occur in horses because of the continual eruption the teeth. These can cause pain, performance problems and also lead to further dental disease, so may need to be corrected. Due to the fact that teeth have nerves and blood vessels, corrections may need to be performed over several visits, as exposing these may cause the tooth to die.

The periodontal tissues comprise of the gingiva (the gum around the tooth), alveolar bone (tooth sockets) and periodontal ligaments (which holds the tooth to the bone). Periodontal disease occurs when bacteria proliferate around the teeth and gums, which can cause the periodontal tissues to deteriorate leading to more bacteria trapped around the tooth in a vicious cycle. This often begins with feed becoming trapped in an abnormal space between cheek teeth (diastema).  Eventually the teeth can become loose and move as the horse chews, which can be extremely painful.  In older horses it also means earlier loss of teeth. Periodontal disease can even sometimes allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream resulting in problems further away than just the mouth. Thorough and regular dental checks are a crucial part of preventing periodontal disease and other dental problems. Meaning that any problems can be identified and preventative treatment initiated early before they progress to unmanageable conditions.

A full dental examination often requires sedating the horse to allow us to have a thorough look inside the mouth to identify and correct any problems.  We recommend that horses under six should be seen twice a year due to the changes that occur when the permanent (adult) teeth are erupting, horses over six once a year, and horses over twenty twice a year.  Call us today to schedule an appointment.


Equine Dental Vet

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