Dental Problems in Horses

Equine dentistry has only really picked up speed in recent years. The big difficulty: Horses do not show any clear symptoms when they have a toothache - they suffer silently, which means that serious problems are often only recognized when it's too late.

- Structure and Developement

Horses, like us, have two generations of teeth: milk teeth and permanent teeth. The change takes place between two and a half and four and a half years. The time at which the milk teeth emerge through the gums and the change from milk teeth to permanent teeth shows extreme differences depending on the breed. Every tooth is made up of cementum, enamel and dentin, going from the outside to the inside. All permanent teeth are covered with cement on the side surfaces, which gives the yellow color. Underneath is the enamel coat as the hardest body substance. Dentin is the main component of the tooth. The different degrees of hardness create the extremely rough surface that enables the horses to crush roughage and grass. The structure of the teeth is the reason for the formation of enamel folds, which on one hand increase the chewing surface and on the other hand reduces the rate of wear, since hard and soft tooth substances lie side by side. Up to the age of 7-9 years, the teeth grow in length and gradually push out. Up to around the age of 15, the molars are pushed out of the tooth socket to compensate for the wear, which is around 2-4 mm per year.

- Wolf Teeth

These wolf teeth are also known as blind teeth due to the fact that they often remain in the gums. Wolf teeth only occur in 10-15% of all horses, with the frequency being higher in male animals. When they enter the oral cavity, it is around the 6th month of life. The wolf tooth is rudimentary and indicates a long-term reduction in premolar dentition. When wolf teeth occur, they usually cause problems when the horse is to be ridden with a bit and should be extracted.

- Functions of the Teeth

The incisors serve the purpose of feeding and plucking, although tooth extractions of the incisors do not pose huge limitations. Longer grass can easily be plucked over the lips. The hook teeth, the canines between the incisors and molars, are not particularly important in terms of food intake, but they are more developed in male horses than in mares. The molars serve to crush food, which creates an extreme pressure. They are particularly tightly closed next to each other and thus allow the circular chewing movement from the outside to the inside.

- Causes of improper Wear

Common causes of improper wear of the teeth can be related to both the feeding and the use of the horse as a mount. Roughage feeding is of particular importance to ensure that the teeth wear down reasonably and evenly. Grazed grass also counts as sap and therefore as soft food, but when eating, grains of sand are also always ingested, which also have a wearing effect. As a result of too little roughage and too much soft food, the incisors can even become so long that the chewing surfaces of the molars no longer meet. Especially horses that spend most of the time in a box tend to behave incorrectly, such as scratching at the bars – intolerance from the box neighbors can also lead to this behavior. Frequent problems with food intake and performance also appear during the change of main teeth at around 2.5-3.5 years. During this time, 12 teeth change at the same time - which must be taken into account, especially in view of the horse's early use in racing or breaking in.

- Possibilities and Anamnesis

In addition to planning the chewing surfaces and removing hooks, more complicated dental technology procedures can now also be used on horses. An accurate medical history is crucial for further treatment. Horses only show toothache very unspecifically, so it is up to the veterinarian to find the cause of any problems and weak points in the teeth. As a result, EOTRH diseases, for example, can also be detected more reliably. EOTRH is a dental disease characterized by extensive inflammation of the tissues surrounding the tooth. Only the incisors and stallion teeth are affected, which dissolve and form excessive cementum as the disease progresses - these teeth must be extracted. The problem is the fact that the adjacent teeth gradually tilt into the gaps, which in turn changes the chewing pattern and wear. The antagonist of the missing tooth also has to be adjusted more frequently, since the natural wear and tear caused by friction on the antagonist does not apply. The annual dental check-up should be an integral part of the overall check-up. Toothache is a silent affliction – it is often not noticed at all or much too late.

- Important Information at a Glance

Check Up: Young horses up to the age of six and old horses from around 18 years of age twice a year

Dentist, vet or dental nurse? Only the profession of veterinarian is protected. Sometimes a weekend course is enough for further training and after that you can call yourself a dental nurse. The certification by the IGFP is a sign of quality. This is currently the only organization that requires a high level of testing. Dentists without a veterinary license are not allowed to sedate or perform surgical procedures.

Symptoms: Chewing wraps, emaciation, poor feed intake or excessive salivation can be signs - but then these are usually serious problems.