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Take Good Care of Your Horses Teeth
 By mosquito   •   27th May 2010   •   8,233 views   •   1 comments
Horse’s teeth are not at all like ours, and it’s a good thing. We eat much softer food that we don’t need to chew as much as if we ate grass. The biggest difference is that horse’s teeth keep growing until the horse is about 27 to 30 years old! Why? It’s exactly because of that tough forage they eat – rough grasses wear down the tooth, so it has to keep regenerating or the horse would soon be left with nothing but gums.

Take Good Care of Your Horses TeethThe horse in the wild has a lifestyle and a diet that the teeth are designed for, and which works well to maintain healthy teeth. One of the biggest factors is the predominance of wild forage. Most domestic horses eat good quality hay or alfalfa, which is much softer than desert or plains grasses, or they are out on water-rich pasture grass. Good quality hays mean horses don’t need to eat as much, so their teeth don’t wear as quickly. Last of all, the simple movement of grazing, and then lifting up the head, changed the jaw position as the horse chews and prevents uneven wear. A horse that stands at a haynet or rack for only a couple hours a day, with its head in the same position, will eventually wear its teeth into sharp points and edges.

These sharp edges can be painful and dangerous. They tend to occur most commonly along the outside edges of the upper and lower molars. They can become so sharp that they cut the horse’s cheek when compressed by a bridle or halter, and cause so much pain a horse has trouble eating. A sure sign your horse has sharp teeth is ‘quidding’, when the horse appears to ‘chomp’ at its food, eats with its mouth open, and drops lots of feed on the ground. Quidding is serious – not only is it a sign the horse is in pain, but what food the horse does manage to eat is often unchewed and indigestible. A quidding horse will quickly lose weight and become malnourished – or even colic, so anytime a horse quids it’s time to get professional help. Another telltale sign your hose isn’t chewing properly is undigested grain in its droppings if you spot that, get your horse’s teeth checked out.

It’s best not to wait until your horse quids to check if its teeth need care. Ask your vet to show you how to safely check your horse’s teeth for sharp edges. These can easily be felt by running your hand between the molars and the horse’s cheek, even with the horse’s jaw closed. You don’t want to get bitten, or cut yourself on sharp edges, so the first time you do this have your vet or instructor show you how to do it safely.

Why check your horse’s teeth regularly? First of all, even before a horse shows signs of quidding, damage may be occurring. Uneven jaw movements because of pain can cause hooks and catches to form on the teeth, or even for teeth to be worked loose. It’s unlikely that a horse with sharp teeth is going to find a bit comfortable, so as edges form your horse might start to show habits like head tossing, chewing, opening its mouth, or even rearing if it is experiencing pain from the bit.

If your horse has sharp teeth, what can you do? Well, prevention is always better than cure, so a regular visit from a horse dentist – some vets and farriers also offer this service – every six to twelve months will keep your horse’s teeth in good condition. The equine dentists ‘floats’ or files down the horse’s teeth to restore a good chewing surface and remove any sharp and painful edges or hooks. If your horse has poor head conformation – such as a bad over or under bite, you may need to call out the dentist more often, as a badly aligned jaw is more likely to wear unevenly.

Take Good Care of Your Horses Teeth

A horse dentist can also take care of other dental problems that may be affecting your horse’s condition, comfort, or performance. Impacted baby teeth (‘milk’ teeth) that haven’t been pushed out by the time the horse is of riding age can usually be removed easily, and this helps to prevent infections, pain, and let the adult teeth come through straight. These ‘baby teeth’ aren’t all really separate teeth, but some are rounded enamel caps that sit above the adult teeth but they can easily become stuck in the horse’s gum. It’s a good idea to start your horse’s dental routine by the time it is a yearling – not only will you protect the young horse’s teeth, but you are taking steps to avoid some conformation defects that occur when the jaw grows awkwardly because the teeth are pushing it one way or the other. A ‘parrot mouth’ or overshot jaw isn’t just unattractive, it’s considered an unsoundness because of the effect it can have on the horse’s nutrition and performance, all because its teeth are misaligned! Plus, the sooner you introduce a young horse to the dentist, the easier it will be to handle for the dentist in years to come!

Redundant ‘wolf’ teeth in male horses, which can sometimes erupt from the upper jaw right where the bit should lie, can also be removed. Most horse will have all of their adult teeth – at least 24 of them – fully emerged by the age of 6. Any delays in your horse’s dental development, or missing teeth (which may not be missing but impacted) need to be checked out by a dentist.

Your horse’s teeth are very important to its overall well being, but they also affect how it is to ride. Understanding how the teeth and jaw work will make your hands – and your riding - more effective. For example, because the horse’s lower jaw moves sideways to grind food like grasses and hay, the horse needs to have quite a lot of freedom of movement in the jaw to allow it to accept the bit. Extreme positions – like ‘rollkur’ – compress and close the horse’s jawbone, and do not allow it to soften its jaw and accept the contact. Drop and grackle nosebands should be used sensitively – and only when you are certain that your horse is not evading the bit due to pain in its teeth, or the very use of these tools will make your horse more uncomfortable and will likely make its resistance worse.

When the horse gets very old, it can ‘run out of tooth’. This means the deep roots that gradually work their way out – this is what we call ‘growing’ – reach their end. Old horses need very sensitive dental care, because there isn’t much tooth left after floating. The best way to manage an older horse’s teeth is to manage its diet, and make sure it can eat plenty of hay and grasses, and hold its head in a natural grazing position as much as possible.

Here are other ways to protect your horse’s teeth. Horse’s teeth can decay, so feeding high sugar feeds and treats should be limited or avoided altogether. If you must give your horse a treat, choose sugar free mints or better yet, carrots. Many dental problems come from injuries – any time you see blood in your horse’s mouth you need to check it out. Often you can find a mouth injury because the horse has been uncomfortable and has started to chew, so you’ll see signs of bleeding first on a fence, a stable door, or even another horse! If you don’t feel safe investigating your horse’s mouth yourself, call your vet or ask a more experienced horse person to take a look. Even knocking the bit against the horse’s teeth can cause cracks that lead to sores and bleeding, so handle your horse’s mouth very carefully. Whatever is causing bleeding in a horse’s mouth must be given time to heal before you use a bit again, and cracked or damaged teeth from an impact or accident need veterinary attention immediately.

Your horse’s moth is important to you and your horse. Take good care of it!
Take Good Care of Your Horses Teeth
Take Good Care of Your Horses Teeth
Take Good Care of Your Horses Teeth
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