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The Importance of Maintaining the Health of Your Horses Mouth

Routine dental care is essential to your horse's health. Periodic examinations and regular maintenance, such as floating, will ensure that your horse will

  • be more comfortable, 

  • utilize feed more efficiently 

  • perform better,

...and may even live longer.

Recognizing Dental Problems

Horses with dental problems may show obvious signs, such as pain or irritation, or they may show no noticeable signs at all. That is due to the fact that some horses simply adapt to their discomfort. For this reason, periodic dental examinations are essential. Indicators of dental problems include:

  • Loss of feed from mouth while eating, difficulty with chewing, or excessive salivation

  • Loss of body condition

  • Large or undigested feed particles (long stems or whole grain) in manure

  • Head tilting or tossing, bit chewing, tongue lolling, fighting the bit, or resisting bridling

  • Poor performance, such as lugging on the bridle, failing to turn or stop, even bucking

  • Foul odor from mouth or nostrils, or traces of blood from the mouth

  • Nasal discharge or swelling of the face, jaw, or mouth tissues

 

Floating and Preventative Maintenance

An oral examination should be an essential part of an annual physical examination by a veterinarian. Every dental exam provides the opportunity to perform routine preventative dental maintenance. The end result is a healthier, more comfortable horse. Routine maintenance of a horse's teeth has been historically referred to as "floating." Floating removes the sharp enamel points. 

 

When turned out on pasture, horses graze almost continuously, picking up dirt and grit in the process. This, plus the silicate in grass, wears down the teeth. Stabled horses, however, may not give their teeth the same workout. Feedings are more apt to be scheduled, not continuous, and include processed grains and hays. Softer feeds require less chewing. This may allow the horse's teeth to become excessively long or to wear unevenly. Adult teeth erupt throughout life and are worn down by chewing.

Dr. Jason Brownridge performs a float procedure 

The Age Factor

The age of a horse affects the degree of attention and frequency of dental care required. Consider these points:

  • Foals should be examined shortly after birth and periodically during the first year to diagnose and correct congenital dental abnormalities (existing from birth).

  • Yearlings have been found to have enamel points sharp enough to damage cheek and tongue tissue. 

  • Horses going into training for the first time, especially 2- and 3-year-olds, need a comprehensive dental check-up.  

  • Horses aged 2 to 5 years may require more frequent dental exams than older horses. Deciduous teeth tend to be softer than permanent teeth and may develop sharp enamel points more quickly. 

  • Mature horses should get a thorough dental examination at least annually.

  • Senior horses (17 years old or older) are at increased risk for developing periodontal disease. This painful disease must be diagnosed early for a successful treatment. Also, it is important to maintain a correct bite plane during a horse's teens in order to ensure a functional grinding surface beyond 20 years of age. Beyond the age of 20, the tooth surfaces may be worn excessively and/or unevenly, and dental alignment correction may be impossible.

  • Horses over 20 years of age should receive a dental evaluation and nutritional counseling at least annually to maintain their conditioning and quality of life. With routine dental care, many horses will maintain a functional dentition into their third and fourth decade.

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