The Normal Equine Mouth
The average horse will graze for 16-18 hours a day on a fibrous diet such as hay and grass. Horses cheek teeth erupt at a rate of approximately 2-3mm ever year, with normal sideways chewing action the teeth are worn down at the same rate of eruption. With domestication and feeding of concentrates the action of the sideways chewing is reduced and this leads to sharp enamel overgrowths or points. Sharp enamel overgrowths occur on the upper cheek (outside) side of the teeth and the lower tongue (inside) side of the equine mouth. These overgrowths or points rub against the soft tissue surfaces including the cheeks and tongue when chewing or when ridden. This may lead to ulcerations adding discomfort and reducing the normal chewing motion even more, or making the horse uncomfortable when ridden. During a dental float these sharp overgrowths are taken off to allow normal chewing action to continue without contact to the soft tissue surfaces.
Every horse is different but most will require an annual dental float as part of general check up.
Signs of Dental Problems
Signs of a dental issue that would require immediate attention include:
- Dropping food from the mouth (quidding)
- Unusual head carriage/head flicking (especially when ridden)
- Weight loss
- Bitting problems
- Smelly breath
- Behavioral issues
- Excessive salivation
- Swelling of the face
- Undigested food in the manure
Not all horses will show obvious signs of dental issues, its important to have regular dental check -ups especially if introducing a horse to the bit for the first time. Remember that horses do not need to be underweight to have teeth issues.
Dental floating is a term used to describe the smoothing or reducing of sharp enamel overgrowth with a hand held rasp called a ‘float’ or a powered float with a rotating disk. A dental ‘gag’ or speculum is placed in the mouth to allow for full examination of all the teeth without danger to the dentist or undue stress to the horse.
A normal dental examination and float can take up to 40 minutes or more. After a dental float the horse should not have any discomfort and should return to grazing as normal straight away. Some horses may require longer procedures or follow up examinations if there are focal areas of dental overgrowth called ‘hooks’ or ‘ramps’, or other abnormalities such as diastemata.
Every dental procedure with TPVC is performed with the horse/pony/donkey under sedation. This allows us to safely and thoroughly examine the entire mouth, and ensure that it is properly floated and balanced.
At the very back of the mouth the rear molars can be very sharp and are often missed in unsedated horses as they won’t easily let you rasp these edges off. Therefore we recommend all horses are sedated to allow a complete and thorough job to be undertaken.
The big question really is to extract or not to extract? A wolf tooth is the fist premolar and is found most commonly on the upper arcade. Most people believe that the wolf teeth need to be removed so they don’t create problems for young horses when introducing them to the bit. This is not true. Wolf teeth only need to be removed if they are displaced, impacted or causing damage to the gums or lips. Some wolf teeth have very long roots so by removing wolf teeth as routine we risk damaging the palatine artery and unnecessarily damage the gums.
If your horse requires wolf tooth removal, trained veterinarians at Te Puke Vets can insert a local anesthetic block to remove the tooth safely and pain free.
Contact us to discuss your equine dental needs.
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Local farmers, associated rural communities and Te Puke town people have supported Te Puke Vet Centre for over 50 years. During those years scores of receptionists, nurses and vets have lived and enjoyed the benefits of this great town and area. It is very important for Te Puke Vets that we are strongly integrated with the local community and as part of that we are proud to support many local schools, sports clubs, service organisations and community events.