Dental care for horses differs significantly from that of humans or even cats and dogs. Due to their vegetarian diet and manner of eating, a horse’s teeth work more like a gristmill, constantly grinding and mashing down their food. The horse’s teeth are therefore designed to keep emerging an adaptation to the manner in which they eat.
Horses usually need a dental checkup every six- twelve months to have their teeth examined and treated in order for the horse’s bite to remain healthy, and so that their food is evenly ground for healthy swallowing and optimal digestion. Newborn foals have their bite and conformation checked, even as the first teeth erupt, in order to evaluate and address possible bite issues.
What You Need to Know about Horse Dental Care
As a horse owner or someone who works with horses, it is important to know what signs to look for which may indicate dental disease.
If your horse seems to be reluctant to eat, or show any signs of pain or head tossing/gagging while eating, this may be a sign that his or her teeth have developed sharp points or hooks that are causing irritation.
If your horse seems to drop a lot of food while eating, the molars may not be meeting up properly, allowing food to escape. If your horse chokes or gags on food, this can also be a sign that the teeth are not grinding the food down enough and that there is a problem that requires evaluation. A combination of bad breath and difficulty eating can signal that your horse may be suffering from horse periodontal disease.
During a horse dental checkup, the veterinarian will likely sedate your horse in order to perform a thorough exam and treatment. A speculum will be used to keep the horse’s mouth open so that your veterinarian can rinse out and examine each tooth, the gums, tongue and all of the mouth’s tissues for inflammation, odors, lesions, etc. You will be provided with a chart showing issues seen during the exam and treatment provided. We work closely with Dr. Lindsay Helvey who is an equine dental specialist. More complicated cases may be referred to her to be managed cooperatively with our health care team.
Dental health is very important for good horse health and wellness. Be sure to have your veterinarian check your horse’s teeth twice a year, and do not hesitate to call if any problems arise between scheduled appointments.