What is Malocclusion?
Whether your horse’s teeth are overshot or undershot, a certain amount of damage can be done no matter what if the teeth do not close and meet the way they should. The damage to the teeth and severe pain can cause more than just crooked teeth. Malocclusion can cause loss of weight and nutrients due to the pain when eating. If your horse has teeth that do not meet properly, it is best to call your equine veterinarian for advice on who to see.
Malocclusion in horses is a faulty alignment between the upper and lower jaws that results in a misaligned bite because the upper and lower teeth do not fit together properly. This may cause serious pain in the horse, leading to weight loss or malnutrition due to pain while eating and chewing. It can also cause periodontal disease and gaps in the teeth. Malocclusion can be either an overbite or underbite, but if the teeth do not meet up right, damage and pain are inevitable.
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Symptoms of Malocclusion in Horses
Some of the most often reported symptoms include:
- Disproportionate alignment of the teeth
- Top and bottom jaws do not line up correctly
- Teeth do not meet right
- Unable to chew up food properly
- Teeth wear unevenly
- Sharp teeth
- Teeth too long
- Damage to the cheeks and gums from sharp teeth
- Weight loss
- Malnutrition (which causes more tooth decay)
- Overbite - Upper incisors hang over lower incisors
- Underbite - Lower incisors stick out over upper incisors
- Diastema - This is a gap between two teeth that can cause periodontal disease
- Periodontal pockets - These pockets of space are caused by gum disease and collect food, leading to abscesses, infection, and tooth loss
- Accentuated transverse ridges - Large ridges across chewing surfaces
- Stepped molars - Molars develop to look like steps
- Wave complexes - Molars have a wavy appearance
- Sheared molar table - Excessive angles on surface of molars
- Enamel points - Sharp points on the outside of the upper molars
- Ramps - Extreme height in the lower premolars
- Rostral hooks - Upper front premolars hang over the lower premolar causing a sharp hook
- Caudal hooks - Upper or lower molar overhangs opposing molar causing a sharp hook
Causes of Malocclusion in Horses
Most forms of malocclusion are hereditary, but there are certain types of malocclusions that are acquired or developed over time. These conditions can cause pain, dental disease. loss of weight, and damage leading to nutrient loss.
Diagnosis of Malocclusion in Horses
To diagnose malocclusion, your veterinarian will likely send you to a veterinary dentist, but first, your horse will get a complete examination. This will include a medical history and vaccination records. You should let the veterinarian know if you have given your horse any kind of medication. A detailed physical examination is next, starting with your veterinarian watching your horse’s behavior, stature, conformation, and range of motion. Next, your veterinarian will check your horse’s reflexes, weight, height, respirations, body condition score, heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.
You will also need to walk your horse around so the veterinarian can check the muscle and joints in motion. The veterinarian will then check each foot and shoe to look for any signs of injury or infection. Blood tests will also be needed including a complete blood count (CBC), serum chemistry analysis, insulin and glucose levels, blood urea nitrogen, (BUN), and packed cell volume (PCV). Finally, x-rays will be done so nothing is overlooked. The veterinarian may go ahead and do x-rays of your horse’s teeth. In addition, CT scans, MRI, and ultrasound can be helpful as well.
Treatment of Malocclusion in Horses
The treatments for malocclusion depends on the type and the age of your horse. It is more successful if your horse is six months of age or younger.
In some cases, the dentist will use tension bands which are similar to braces that are used on humans. These bands are made of wire and the will be used to slow down the growth of the upper jaw for an overbite.These bands will be kept on for about 4-6 months. You will have to keep an eye on these bands to make sure they do not cause any complications and return for visits every month.
Another choice is to have an acrylic bite plane made to keep your horse’s teeth in the position they should be in. This can be kept in place from one week to over a year, depending on your horse’s age and the severity of the problem. Just like with bands, you will need to check on these daily and go back often to get the bite plane adjusted when necessary.
Recovery of Malocclusion in Horses
Your horse’s prognosis is good with treatment. It is best to get the treatment while your horse is young because their teeth and jaws are still forming. A good set of teeth is important to your horse’s health.