Horses require regular dental care, not only to remove sharp points, but to look for and assess any potential abnormalities that could be causing them discomfort or more serious problems.
Horses have a very unique dental structure. They have two major divisions of teeth; incisors which are in the very front of the mouth, and cheek teeth, which are made up of premolars and molars. Incisors are used for grasping and tearing feed, while cheek teeth are used to grind feed. The premolars and molars are lined up tightly lined up beside each other. This is called a dental arcade. There is a large space between the incisors and the cheek teeth. Canine teeth can be found in this large space.
Horses evolved with a special kind of tooth, called hypsodont teeth. These teeth are tall and continue to erupt from the gum long after forming. These teeth develop in the jaw of the horse. Cementum (hard material that forms part of the tooth) and bone are deposited, which eventually pushes the tooth out of the skull and through the gum line. The exposed part of the tooth is called the crown, while the portion left in the jaw is called the body or reserve crown. On the surface of the tooth, there is enamel and dentin. The enamel is very hard and is very important for grinding feed. It is extremely important that the chewing surfaces of the teeth have enamel-to-enamel contact. If the teeth are offset, then the enamel can come into contact with the much softer dentin. This then results in the dentin wearing away rapidly and deforming the softer tooth.
For a long time, it was believed that horses only develop sharp points, and all that was needed was a regular floating to remove sharp points. Now it understood that this is not the complete picture of equine dental care. The most important part of dental care is a thorough dental exam. Ideally, depending on your horse’s age and performance level, your veterinarian should complete a thorough dental exam every six months to one year. It is important to complete a complete oral exam, and not just look at the teeth as other disease problems may be present in the horse’s mouth. During the assessment, your veterinarian looks for any signs of tooth decay (cavities), fractured teeth, periodontal (gum) disease, oral soft tissue injuries or tooth root abscess.
For a dental exam, your horse is sedated, and then your veterinarian will place an oral speculum. This allows us to visualize and examine your horse’s entire mouth. All of the tooth surfaces are examined, along with the gums, tongue, hard/soft palate, and external facial structures.
For more information on what your veterinarian may see during an dental examination of your horse, see our second blog post on dental abnormalitites.