February is National Pet Dental Health month, a time when pet owners are reminded that routine oral care is an important aspect of their animal’s well-being. Just like their small animal counterparts, large animals such as horses also require veterinary attention to keep their mouths in top shape.
Dr. Leslie Easterwood, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that there are not many preventative maintenance procedures owners can do at home with their horse’s teeth, so it is important that owners keep an eye out for signs of discomfort and contact their veterinarian if any concerns arise.
“Dropping grain, holding their head funny while chewing, odors, resistance to the bit, and performance issues are all signs that there could be dental issues,” Easterwood said.
Easterwood says that the most common dental issue seen in horses is due to normal wear. Sharp enamel points along the cheek side of the upper arcades and tongue side of the lower arcades occur because of the side-to-side grind of a horse’s mouth, which is normal.
However, these sharp edges cause ulcers along the horse’s cheeks and tongue, and smoothing the sharp edges allows the ulcerations to heal quickly.
“Dental floating is a procedure to smooth these sharp enamel points,” Easterwood said. “Floating is the common term for routine maintenance of a horse’s mouth. The term ‘floating’ comes from woodworking, in which boards are planed smooth.”
Horses that are going to be ridden should start having their teeth floated prior to introducing the bit. Most horses need their teeth floated annually, but missing teeth, unlevel arcades, or other dental problems may require more frequent maintenance.
Horses may also require dental attention for the removal of their wolf teeth, which are usually removed prior to introducing the bit.
“A horse can have zero to four wolf teeth, but usually have only two, on the upper arcades,” Easterwood said. “These teeth are small and are actually the first cheek teeth.”
Staying up to date on your horse’s oral health can help prevent unnecessary discomfort and larger health issues. Since most equine dental maintenance practices require the care of a veterinarian, it is important that owners establish a relationship with their veterinarian that includes discussion of oral health.
Although equine oral care may look very different from the dental care required for humans and smaller animals, regular maintenance and veterinary care can keep your horse happy, healthy, and champing at the bit.
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