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What is Parrot Mouth?

This condition does not just cause bad teeth in horses, it can also promote health problems such as loss of appetite, weight loss, and malnutrition due to the pain when chewing and the inability to chew food correctly. Parrot mouth can also damage the teeth, which can create injuries to your horse’s gums, cheeks, and tongue which may cause infection if not treated right away.

Parrot mouth (overbite) in horses is a dental disease can be found in any breed, style, gender, and age, although it is usually found in horses between the age of 6 and 12 months. It is not known whether it comes from trauma, illness, or if it is genetic, but the condition is caused by either the bottom jaw (mandible) being too short or the top jaw (maxilla) being too long. Some experts believe it happens when a mare and stallion are bred that have completely different head styles. Even if they both have normal teeth and jaws, the combination of the two different styles of heads cause a mismatch that produces this condition.

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Symptoms of Parrot Mouth in Horses

The signs of parrot mouth in horses can range due to the severity of the problem. It can be so mild that there may be no real noticeable issues or so severe that your horse has trouble chewing food. The symptoms can consist of:

  • Upper teeth hanging over bottom teeth
  • Bottom and top jaws do not match up
  • Upper and lower teeth do not meet
  • Uneven wearing of the teeth
  • Sharp teeth
  • Cuts or other damage to mouth, gums, cheeks, and tongue
  • Appetite loss
  • Loss of weight
  • Malnutrition

 Types

Parrot mouth is known by other names such as overbite, undershot jaw, buck tooth, overshot maxilla, and brachygnathism. However, these are all the same disorder. There are different degrees of parrot mouth, which are:

  • Mild parrot mouth is when the upper and lower teeth meet but do not line up correctly; this usually does not need any treatment besides an annual dental examination to check for hooked or ramped teeth and make sure the condition is not getting worse
  • Severe parrot mouth includes those horses whose teeth do not match up at all; this can be serious if not treated because the cheek teeth can become hooked and dig into the pulp, causing pain and making it difficult for your horse to eat

Causes of Parrot Mouth in Horses

There are different theories on how parrot mouth is developed, which include:

  • Breeding two horses with very different style heads
  • Genetics
  • Illness or infection
  • Injury

Diagnosis of Parrot Mouth in Horses

Because parrot mouth is a dental problem as well as a medical one, the veterinarian may refer you to an equine dentist. However, a physical examination to rule out other conditions is usually warranted. Provide as much information as you can about your horse’s medical history and any behavioral or appetite changes. The veterinarian will do a complete physical, which includes blood tests, urinalysis, and fecal examination.

The misalignment of your horse’s teeth will usually be obvious, but there may be other things going on that you cannot see. In addition, the veterinarian will also need to do some dental radiographs (x-rays) to get a good look at your horse’s teeth before deciding what needs to be done and whether to refer you to an equine dentist.

Treatment of Parrot Mouth in Horses

In mild cases of parrot mouth, the treatment is to schedule your horse to see the veterinarian or equine dentist annually to monitor the progress. This is to make sure the condition is not getting worse and to even out the teeth if they are wearing down unevenly. It is important not to let your horse’s teeth get sharp enough to cut into the tongue or inside of the cheek. However, if your horse has a severe case of parrot mouth, the treatment used most often is surgery to fix the problem.

Surgical Procedure

The surgery is done by an equine orthodontic dentist most often rather than your normal veterinarian because of the extensive work that needs to be done. This procedure includes pre-medicating your horse with a broad spectrum antibiotic and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) before sedation. The mouth will be cleaned with a chlorhexidine solution before grinding down the exposed crowns of the incisors until they are about 3 millimeters above the gum line. 

Wires are placed on each side of your horse’s jaw and wrapped together. Dental acrylic is placed in the roof of the mouth to hold the wires in place. The position of the acrylic plate is essential to contact with the lower teeth. The pressure will cause a slight pull when your horse chews that will eventually move the jaw into a more normal position. Depending on the severity of the misalignment, the appliance should be able to be removed within 9-15 months. During this time, your horse should see the equine veterinarian or your own veterinarian at least once a month.

Recovery of Parrot Mouth in Horses

In mild cases, you will need to monitor the problem and see the veterinarian or dentist every year. If there are any problems such as loose or broken wires, call your veterinarian and make an appointment right away. If your horse has had surgery, be sure to check his mouth daily to make sure there are no complications. Regular follow up will be scheduled.