By Dr. Katie Hennessy
Like ourselves, horse’s need regular dental care for their 36- 40 teeth. Horses have 12 incisors, but past the large gap (where the bit is placed) are premolars and molars. Horses chew in a circular pattern to maintain an occlusive surface and their teeth are hypsodont which means they erupt from the gum throughout their life. This is a great system for horses that constantly have large forage particles grinding down their teeth, however it can also cause problems.
A horse with normal teeth will still create sharp points on the edges of the teeth that can cause ulcers. Horses with missing teeth will end up with the tooth opposite the missing tooth erupting into an empty socket and causing a disruption of chewing ability or causing significant pain. In order to identify and correct problems, most horses should have a dental exam and float every 1-2 years. Elderly horses or horses with known dental problems (ex. missing teeth, significant wave or overbite) may require more frequent care.
Dental exams are important to assess how your horse’s teeth are growing, while floating reduces any sharp points or excessively grown teeth. These regular check-ups ensure that your horse is chewing optimally to maximize digestion and prevent some causes of colic. Foals are not immune to dental issues and newborns should have their mouths examined to identify any problems or defects in their palate.
While your horse may have regular dental checks, sometimes problems occur between appointments so it’s important to be observant and recognise when there might be an issue. Horses that are reluctant to eat, starts to quid (drop food balls), have nasal drainage, have a foul or unusual odor from the mouth or have weight loss need to be evaluated by a veterinarian. Horses that have difficulty or a painful time chewing can choke or colic because they are unable to grind their food properly. If you have any concerns, you should contact your veterinarian for advice and to schedule a dental appointment.
This column is sponsored by Polk Equine, and the opinions expressed herein may not reflect those of CFAN or of its advertisers.
BIO: Dr. Katie Hennessy graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008 with a degree in large animal
health and equine medicine. She completed an advanced internship at the Equine Medical Center of Ocala and is currently the owner and
practicing veterinarian at Polk Equine. Her expertise ranges from small and exotic creatures to large animals, specializing in equine medicine