What are Dental Malocclusions?
Horses are large, grazing animals that depend on being able to grind plants and vegetable matter into small enough fragments to be useful for the body, making the health of the teeth critical for the health and performance of the horse. When evaluating a horse for purchase, one of the primary areas to be examined is the mouth of the horse. This is because there is a lot of information to be found in a horse's mouth, and most of it is from the teeth. Malocclusions such as overbite, incisor slant, and underbite can make eating difficult and in some cases, extremely painful.
The dental health of horses is vital to their overall health. Malocclusions of the incisor can lead to difficulty eating leading to malnutrition.
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Symptoms of Dental Malocclusions in Horses
There are many signs that a horse with dental trouble might exhibit which should prompt you to examine the horse’s mouth more thoroughly.
- Behavioral changes
- Blood in mouth
- Cuts on lips
- Discharge from nasal passages
- Dull coat
- Excessive drooling
- Food dropping from mouth
- Foul odor from mouth or nose
- Head tilting
- Head tossing
- Poor condition
- Reluctance to accept bit
- Swelling of face
- Tongue dangling
- Unchewed food
- Undigested food in manure
- Weight loss
When a horse is born with a small overbite, it may result in hooks in of the molars, which can easily be adjusted by an equine dentist. A larger overbite, in which the top and bottom incisors do not touch, is known as parrot mouth and may require corrective surgery.
An underbite, like an overbite, can result in hooks developing on the molars when mild. Severe cases of underbite, also referred to as sow mouth, are likely to require corrective surgery as well.
Most often caused by retained baby teeth referred to as deciduous caps, on the upper corners. This curvature forms a smile-like line where the front incisors meet.
Most often caused by retained baby teeth referred to as deciduous caps, on the lower corners, but may also be due to vices like cribbing. This curvature forms a frown-like line where the front incisors meet.
This can be caused either by a horse that tends to chew only one direction or by a missing or damaged incisor on one side.
Causes of Dental Malocclusions in Horses
Overbite and underbite problems are most often congenital, meaning that they are structural problems that are present from birth. Curvatures are usually the result of retained baby teeth on either the upper or lower corner incisors or abnormal chewing due to an issue with the molars. Slant, also known simply as a diagonal bite is often caused by missing teeth.
Diagnosis of Dental Malocclusions in Horses
Dental examinations typically start with a history of the horse including questions regarding the patient’s medical history, age, and regular activities. Questions are also likely to cover information concerning changes in eating habits or deviations from their normal behaviors. Many practitioners find it easier and safer to administer a mild to moderate sedative prior to the examination to lessen anxiety and ensure that the horse remains calm. The equine dental professional will then check the head and face area for swelling as well as evaluating the alignment of the jaw. At this point, the dentist will take a look inside the oral cavity, typically with the assistance of a speculum to keep the horse’s mouth in an open position. Both the teeth and the soft tissues inside the mouth will be evaluated.
Lacerations and ulcers that are found on the cheeks, lips, or tongue from malocclusions of the molars will also be assessed to ensure that no pockets of infection are present. Recent advancements in radiography equipment have made the use of x-rays more commonplace, helping veterinary dentists more clearly visualize the teeth and their supporting structures.
Treatment of Dental Malocclusions in Horses
The most common corrective procedure in equine dentistry is called floating. Floating is the leveling out of the teeth using either a manual rasp or power tool. This can fix a number of incisors related problems all on its own, particularly for horses that have received regular dental care in the past. In general, floating the teeth of an equine will take less than half an hour and is typically painless as the nerves in the horse’s mouth end very near the gumline.
More severe irregularities, like severe slant or curvature, may require repeated appointments in order to prevent the loss of too much of the surface of the incisors at one time. Any tartar buildup will also be removed at this point, to prevent any further infections or inflammation of the gums. Sores in the mouth usually heal fairly efficiently with minimal interference, but if they have developed any infections, the appropriate antibiotics will be prescribed to clear it up. In cases of severe over or underbite, surgical remedies may be required to align the jaw enough to allow for efficient chewing.
Recovery of Dental Malocclusions in Horses
In ideal circumstances, a newly born foal should have his or her first dental check up within the first few weeks of life. This allows the dentist to spot any potential future problems as well as getting the young animal used to having the area inspected. Follow ups are typically recommended at six months and a year to check for malocclusions like overbite or underbite. Regular dental attention can also help by alerting the dentist to the need to remove retained deciduous caps to prevent curvatures in the first place. After these initial appointments, the teeth should regularly be examined; one to two times a year in most cases.