What is Dental Problems Due to Wear?
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. Horses are large animals that depend on being able to grind plants and vegetable matter into usable fragments for the body, making the health of the teeth critical for the health and performance of the horse. The uneven wear of teeth is one of the most common cause for dental issues found in horses and can cause troubling effects such as cuts and sores inside the mouth, loss of teeth, and malnutrition.
The dental health of horses is vital to their overall health. Uneven wear on teeth can cause malformations of the teeth that can lead to lacerations in the mouth and malnutrition in untreated animals.
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Symptoms of Dental Problems Due to Wear 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
- 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
Hooks are created when there are discrepancies in the placement or length of the upper and lower jaw. This misalignment leaves a small portion of the tooth with nothing to grind against, causing the malformation. When hooks develop in the front of the mouth, it is called a rostral hook, when in the back, a caudal hook.
Sharp Enamel Points
Sharp enamel points are one of the most common dental issues to occur in equines. These sharp points typically develop on the outer edge of the upper teeth and the inner edge of the lower teeth and can cause painful lacerations and ulcerations on the cheeks and the tongue.
Shear mouth is generally caused by the horse chewing more on one side of the mouth than the other. This produces a sloping effect to the teeth and can lead to sharp edges that can severely lacerate the cheeks and tongue.
With wave mouth, the molars develop an uneven, wave-like appearance. This is a common disorder in horses over the age of 12, particularly if dental care has been neglected. Untreated wave mouth can lead to infection, inhibited chewing, and the inability to relax the jaw when using a bit.
Causes of Dental Problems Due to Wear in Horses
- Congenital misalignment - Some horses, like people, are born with jaw misalignments, overbites, and underbites which can change the wear pattern
- Improperly floated teeth - The term floating teeth refers to filing down the teeth to even them out; if the filing is uneven, it can instigate new problems instead of fixing the current ones (this process is not generally painful to the horse and may need to be repeated on a regular basis)
- Lack of dental care - Horses who never receive dental care often develop pronounced imbalances in wear; severe dental disorders, if they remain untreated, can lead to death through either infection or malnutrition
- Missing teeth - Missing teeth allow the tooth that is opposite the empty space to grow unchecked; this can prevent the jaw from moving normally and create further wear disorders
Diagnosis of Dental Problems Due to Wear in Horses
Dental examinations usually start with the horse’s history. This generally includes asking questions regarding the patient’s medical history, age, and regular activities. It will also cover information concerning changes in eating habits or deviations from their normal behaviors. Often, veterinarians will administer a mild to moderate sedative prior to examination to lessen anxiety and ensure the horse remains calm. Your equine dentist will then check the head and face area for swelling and evaluate the alignment of the jaw.
The examining veterinary dentist will then look and feel inside the mouth, typically with the assistance of a speculum to hold the horse’s mouth open. 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 will 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 Problems Due to Wear 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 wear problems all on its own, often in a single setting, particularly if the horse has gotten 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 a severe wave or shear mouth, may require repeated appointments in order to prevent the loss of too much of the chewing surface 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.
Recovery of Dental Problems Due to Wear in Horses
Proper dental care can prevent many of these problems from ever becoming severe. In ideal circumstances, a newly born foal will 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. After these initial appointments, the teeth should be examined regularly; one to two times a year in most cases.