What are Dental Caps?
Retained dental caps can cause the permanent teeth to come in misaligned or become impacted. If the cap breaks apart, the fragment that remains can lacerate the inside of the foal’s mouth. Dental caps can also result in infections, periodontal disease, and mandible or maxilla cysts. The foal will have difficulty eating. It becomes painful to masticate and the foal will quid his food. Quidding happens when a horse drops partially chewed food out of his mouth.
It is recommended that horses between the age of two and five be seen by an equine dental veterinarian every 6 months to insure that the permanent teeth grow in properly.
A foal’s permanent teeth start emerging around 2 years of age and his deciduous teeth (baby teeth) are usually push out of the way. Sometimes the deciduous teeth remain, on top of the permanent teeth, they are then called dental caps.
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Symptoms of Dental Caps in Horses
Foals with dental caps may have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty chewing
- Head tossing
- Tilting of the head
- Shows pain and resistance to putting in his bit
- Swelling on his face or muzzle
- Hard bumps on the jaw bone
- Blood in his saliva
- Drooling saliva
- Weight loss
- Bad breath
- Behavior problems
- Discharge from mouth or nose
Causes of Dental Caps in Horses
Dental caps are caused when the deciduous teeth are not shed, when the permanent teeth emerge. Normally the deciduous teeth which have short roots, fall out when the permanent tooth emerges. The retained dental cap will either break apart into fragments or it may sit over the permanent tooth. The cheek teeth, which are the molars and premolars, are usually more inclined to become retained dental caps.
Diagnosis of Dental Caps in Horses
The equine veterinarian will take a medical history of your horse. He will ask what the horse’s symptoms are, and a timeline of when they started. He will perform a physical examination on your horse and check the horse’s overall health. The veterinarian may want to watch the horse eat, so he can see how he masticates his food. A complete blood count (CBC) may help determine if the horse has a low blood count or if he has a bacterial infection. The patient will be sedated, so that the veterinarian can perform an oral exam.
The veterinarian will use a full mouth speculum to keep the mouth open for observation. The exam will included a visual inspection of the teeth, gums and palpation of lower and upper jaw. If he finds dental caps that are fractured, the tongue and cheeks of the horse will be checked for laceration. Food that is trapped between the dental cap and the permanent teeth will be flushed out. Dental x-rays may also be taken.
Treatment of Dental Caps in Horses
Only a licensed board certified veterinarian should administer sedatives or anesthesia on a horse. Some states allow lay-men, or unlicensed individuals to perform equine surgery. This is definitely not recommended. There are too many complications that may occur that only a licensed veterinarian is trained to handle.
Any identified dental caps will need to be extracted. The horse will be sedated and given nerve blocks, or the veterinarian may recommend general anesthesia. The dental caps will be pulled out using forceps or by a cap extractor. The horse may require sutures. The veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics pain and anti-inflammatory medication, administered by intravenous. If your horse had lacerations on the tongue and or cheeks he may have to be fed soft and wet food until the area heals.
Recovery of Dental Caps in Horses
Once the dental caps are removed, the horse’s prognosis is very good. With the dental cap gone, the misaligned permanent tooth is able to move into the correct spot. It may take the patient a few days to be able to masticate his food, because the mouth will be a bit sore. Follow-up visits will be needed, to check on the patient’s progress. The veterinarian will check for any signs of infection or inflammation on the gums. A repeat complete blood work (CBC) and x-rays may be suggested. If your horse had any lacerations in the mouth, the veterinarian will take a look, to see how it is healing. A foal will need to have dental exams every six month, to insure that his permanent teeth are coming in correctly.