The thought of going to the dentist fills me with dread and anxiety.
Since I was a kid dentists have poked, prodded, and made me bleed. I was cursed with soft teeth.
I broke a tooth biting into a store bought Macintosh apple once.
I brush my teeth twice a day, floss when needed, use mouthwash. I avoid sugary drinks. Yet ever since I can remember a trip to the dentist means drillings and fillings.
It’s not the drill, no.
It’s not the filling, no.
It’s the scraping and stabbing with pointy metal mini-jousts, the bright lights in my face, water and junk building up in my mouth with the inability to swallow, the jaw pain, the blood, and MOST CERTAINLY the Novocain shot.
I LOVE NOVOCAIN, but the shot is the worst part. No needle should be in the mouth EVER. On top of it the dentist rarely shoots me with enough so he has to poke me again when I start flinching.
If you want to torture me…dentistry is the way to go.
Today I just lost a filling on a bite of Quaker Oatmeal Squares.
Now I’m heading to the dentist to get in repaired…and to get needles poking around where they don’t belong.
But enough about me, this comes perfectly at the time for Pet Dental Awareness Month, which begins today!
Many horse owners don’t put too much thought into their horse’s teeth. Most will typically wait until the horse is older to have the vet float it’s teeth.
Let’s begin with a little overview on the basic horse mouth.
A horse has several different types of teeth for different purposes. To name a few,
- If your fingers are mistaken for carrots you might get bitten by the incisors. These 12 teeth (6 top and bottom) are right up front that are clearly visible. They are used for tearing blades of grass while grazing in the field.
- You can tell a lot about the horses age by looking at the incisors. There are different angles, and markers that reveal how old a horse might be.
- Molars (Cheek Teeth)
- Looking at the skull you’ll notice there’s a gap between the incisors and the back teeth. They aren’t missing teeth, that’s how it’s supposed to be. The back teeth, or cheek teeth (or molars), are used for grinding hay, grass, and grains. Typically you will see 24 teeth; 3 premolars and 3 molars on each side top and bottom.
- The horse’s mouth is designed to glide smoothly so it can properly grind the hay to smaller lengths. Molars continuously grow, and often form sharp edges when the mouth is out of balance.
- Most male horses will have up to four canine teeth, which are smaller and sharper and sit right behind the incisors. You might occasionally find a mare with these as well. These vestigial teeth have no current role, but ancestors of the horse used them for fighting and defending the herd.
- Wolf Teeth
- Another vestigial tooth that can occur occasionally in some horses. A wolf tooth might erupt directly in front of the molars. It is often smaller and sometimes doesn’t fully erupt.
Just as in humans, foals have baby teeth, which are often referred to as “deciduous” teeth. They are typically replaced by the permanent adult teeth by two years.
I mentioned above that molars continuously grow. Looking at the picture below you’ll see how deep the molars are rooted in the equine skull.
The term “floating” signifies a procure performed by an equine dentist or vet that addresses smoothing out the molars.
If a horse is out of balance it stops chewing evenly and the teeth are therefore worn unevenly. This causes sharp points and edges called hooks. The hooks can become so sharp they will cut and ulcerate the cheeks. I’ve even heard that some neglected teeth can grow stab the roof of the mouth. Clearly, this causes quite some pain so we typically like to catch this before the issues occur.
To keep this toothy introduction brief I will save my floating article for next time. What you need to know about floating is that a vet or equine dentist will visit your horse and do an exam. A good dental professional will address incisor issues as well as the molars. You horse will most likely be sedated and a speculum will be used. This contraption secures the incisors and cranks the mouth open to allow the dentist to do his/her work without the risk of getting bitten. To file the sharp edges a rasp is used; some use hand held tools while others opt for power tools (which I don’t prefer but we’ll talk about that later).
Older horses do in fact need more help. As they age they are highly more susceptible to rotting teeth and tooth issues. Keeping weight on a senior is hard enough but try it when he/she has bad teeth!
Equine dentistry is a large topic and highly misunderstood. Too many horse owners disregard the importance of a good dental routine. The truth is…a horse’s natural balance and good behavior can start with a well balanced mouth.
Stay tuned as we dive deeper into the world of equine dentistry this month!
If you’re impatient and want to learn more check out these great pages and articles!
- Center for Natural Balance Horse Dentistry
- The Spruce – Learn About Your Horse’s Teeth
- Equisearch – Horses Require Regular Dentistry and Teeth Floating for Proper Chewing
- CEH Horse Report – Equine Dentistry: It’s Not Just Floating Anymore
- MacKinnen Equine Services – Equine Dentistry
- VCA – Equine Dentistry