Dentistry is probably the most important, yet often overlooked health practice we can provide for our horses. Properly done, it can lead to balanced body functions, that in turn improve performance, improve health and even prolong life. Poor equine dentistry on the other hand increases pain, contributes to lameness, and leads to neurological imbalance with a host of negative ramifications.
There are several aspects to equine dentristy that are addressed by your veterinarian. The way the horses teeth line up cause them to wear down or not wear down in ways that need to be addressed.
Unfortunately, cheek teeth tend to develop sharp enamel points. Because the horse’s lower jaw is narrower than its upper jaw, and due to the grinding motion during chewing, sharp points tend to form along the edges. Points form on the cheek side of the upper jaw and the tongue side of the lower jaw and can cause ulsers by digging into the cheek and tounge tissue. Floating is the "rasping," or filing of points on the teeth to prevent them from cutting the cheek or tongue. Floating might involve leveling of the molar arcades or rounding the surface of the second premolar to resemble the end of a thumb. The goal of floating is to maintain the symmetry and balance of the teeth and to allow free chewing motion.
Normally, contact with the opposing tooth keeps biting surfaces equal. When cheek teeth are out of nment, hooks can form. Hooks on the upper cheek teeth can interfere with biting. Hooks on the lower cheek teeth can force the horse to chew up and down, causing stress on the jaw muscle. If allowed to continue the horse can develop ramps (large hooks).
Before: Note the ramp on the front top molar and the hook on the bottom back molar.
After: the hooks required molar cutters to reduce. The molars were then leveled to balance the bite.
It is important to catch dental problems early. Waiting too long might increase the treatment needed or might even make remedy impossible. If a horse starts behaving abnormally, dental problems should be considered as a potential cause. Horses with dental problems might show obvious signs, such as pain or irritation of the mouth. Other indications of dental problems include loss of feed from mouth while eating; difficulty chewing or excess salivation; loss of body condition; large, undigested food particles in manure; head tilting or tossing; bit chewing, tongue lolling, fighting the bit, or resisting the bridle; bucking or failing to stop or turn; foul odor from mouth or nostrils; traces of blood in mouth; or nasal discharge or swelling of the face. Other horses might show no noticeable signs because they simply adapt to their discomfort. For this reason, have your veterinarian thoroughly examine your horse’s teeth at least once a year. This dental exam provides the opportunity to perform routine preventative dental maintenance and avoid having relatively minor problems become serious in the future. The end result is a healthier, more comfortable horse.