Routine dental care is essential to your horse’s health. Dental floating will allow your horse to utilize feed more efficiently, become more comfortable in the bit and bridle, and it will limit many diseases that result from poor dentition. We recommend a dental exam once or twice a year depending on the condition of your horse’s mouth.
Recognizing Common Dental Problems
Listed are common dental problems recognized by most owners. Some horses may not show any noticeable discomfort and the problem may only be discovered upon examination by a veterinarian.
- Sharp enamel points forming on the cheek teeth, causing lacerations of cheeks and tongue
- Discomfort caused by the bit contact with the wolf teeth
- Retained caps (baby teeth covering over adult molars that are not shed)
- Long and sharp bridle or canine teeth (more common in male horses)
- Hooks on upper and lower teeth
- Loosing or dropping grain while eating. Sometimes the horse may twist his head and neck while eating to accommodate sharp teeth.
- Lost teeth and broken teeth – you may notice odor in the mouth of your horse or even weight loss due to lack of teeth.
- Abnormally worn teeth, excessively worn teeth, infected teeth with nasal drainage or swelling, misalignment of teeth.
SYMPTOMS OF DENTAL PROBLEMS
Typical signs that your horse is having dental problems may include: loss of feed from the mouth while eating, loss of weight and body condition, undigested feed in the manure, head-tilting or tossing, bit-chewing or fighting the bit, poor performance including failing to “take the bit” or stop on bit pressure, foul odor from the mouth or nostrils, and finally, nasal discharge especially from one nostril.
FLOATING TEETH AND DENTAL EXAMS
In the wild, the horse travels 10-20 miles per day. During this daily journey, the horse will consume soil and plant particles that will help to keep the mouth in alignment and the teeth worn without points. Unfortunately, no matter how well that we take care of our horses, we cannot provide them with all of the feedstuffs that they require to keep the teeth in proper alignment. Grazing helps! The more that you graze your horse on pasture, the more “natural wear” will occur in your horse’s mouth. Horses that spend most of the day stabled in a stall may require more than one dental exam/float in a year.
Dental exams are the most important technique to determine the over-all health of your horse’s mouth. We use a speculum to open the mouth and a bright light to view to the back of the mouth. During our exam, we will look for any lesions or tumors in your horse’s mouth, assess the wear, shape, and eruption of the teeth, and we will evaluate the lips, tongue and cheeks as well. Your horse is never too young or old for a dental exam and we encourage you to schedule your horse’s first dental exam by one year of age. We welcome your questions during the exam and are thrilled to involve you in your horse’s dental exam.
Dental floating involves filing down the points and sharp edges of the teeth, re-aligning or restoring the teeth to it’s natural state of attrition, and making the mouth more comfortable for your horse to eat, chew, and perform with a bridle and bit. We use power tools to accomplish our dental float on your horse. A light sedative is given to your horse so that he or she will be comfortable with the dental exam and float. Horses are awake and standing during the procedure even under sedation. The cost of dental exams and floats vary depending on the amount of dental work required to align your horses’s mouth.
Base rate for IV sedation is $55 and the cost of the basic exam and dental float is $135.
Tooth extraction and additional dental work may raise the final cost. We guarantee our work and are happy to let you “examine” and feel inside of your horse’s mouth. We offer dentistry in our Equine Wellness Program and this may afford the most economical savings for your horse.
Complaint: This is the upper lip of a 15 year old Arabian mare. The owner complained that her horse was reluctant to eat though she appeared hungry. Occasionally, there was a pink tinge to the horse’s saliva. The owner called us when she noticed that her horse was loosing weight even though she had plenty of pasture to graze.
Examination: When we lifted the lip of the mare, we noticed a significant ulceration in the corner of the right side of the upper lip. In addition, there were multiple blisters throughout the gums and lips. On closer examination, we discovered slender hairs protruding throughout the mouth especially around the lesions and blisters and between the teeth. These hair-like thistles are called retrose barbs and they are needle sharp and very irritating to oral tissue. These barbs belong to a weed called FOXTAIL and are commonly found in hay harvested following a draught year.
Treatment: The horse’s mouth was copiously rinsed with water and an oral rinse. Foxtail barbs were manually and tediously removed from the embedded oral tissue. NSAID’s were administered to control pain and inflammation. More importantly, a soft roughage was fed until the mouth healed. The contaminated hay was destroyed and new (weed-free) hay was fed. The horse healed without incidence after 2-3 weeks of treatment.
Complaint: The client of this 13 year old draft mare called us to examine and float her horse’s teeth. The owner had not had the opportunity to drive this mare in the past 3 years due to lack of free time. Her mare was over-fit and was approximately 200 lbs over-weight. The mare grazed just a few hours per day and ate grain and hay without any trouble. The only complaint that the owner had with this mare was that she had become extremely grumpy and very aggressive toward other horses and people.
Examination: We opened the mouth and placed a speculum to assist us in the examination. A mirror was placed in the mouth and each tooth was examined. The molars were in un-even wear and attrition with sharp points on the teeth located on the upper cheek or buccal side and sharp points on the lower teeth on the tongue or lingual side. More importantly, teeth #106, 206 were not in proper wear and had become excessively long and dominant (DRACULA Teeth!). There was an over-jet (top teeth over the bottom teeth) of the upper incisors. There was no lateral excursion of the upper/lower arcades to the right or left. (the upper teeth could not move against the lower teeth to the right or left due to the locking or ramping of the teeth)
Treatment: We floated the teeth aligning the pre-molars and molars so that they were in even-wear on the chewing surfaces. The #106, 206 teeth were reduced and placed in-wear with the upper arcades. The incisors were balanced. We encouraged the owner to increase grazing time and include more hay and less grain in this horse’s diet. After a few months, the owner reported to us that this horse was much more comfortable and more docile toward other horses and people. The mare was grazing more and had actually slimmed down due to the increased pasture walking.
Complaint: The owner called us to vaccinate and care for her Tennessee Walking horse gelding through our Wellness Program. Included in the Wellness Program package was a complete exam. Recently, the owner had moved the horse from her back-yard barn and field to a training barn with limited access to other horses and turn-out. The owner reported that her horse seemed bored living in his training stall.
Examination: We always include an oral exam in a complete health exam. When we lifted this horse’s lip, we noticed black stained teeth. His breath was fetid. The owner had not noticed stained teeth in years previous. We pulled blood from this horse to assess his general organ health because dark stained teeth in a horse may indicate kidney/renal disease. In addition, we questioned the trainer concerning this horse’s stall habits. The trainer reported that there was not a lot of manure in his stall. We concluded that this horse was lonely in the stall and from boredom and lack of fiber, he had reverted to eating his manure causing dark-stained teeth.
Treatment: After we floated and balanced the teeth, we buffed and scaled off much of the teeth stain/plaque. We encouraged the trainer to give this horse additional hay and move him to a stall where he could view other horses. We also suggested that he is turned-out for free time in the arena with other horses. The owner later reported to us, that the horse had reduced his habit of eating manure (caprophagy) because of the additional hay and daily interaction with other horses in the arena.
Complaint: This lovely Quarter Horse mare was in her usual pasture with other members of her herd. She came in from grazing with blood on her lips. When her owner lifted her lips to examine her mouth, she discovered that her mare’s incisor tooth had been fractured possibly from a kick from another horse or an impact with a tree or rock.
Examination: After examination of the mouth, an X-ray determined that there was no broken bone involved in the fractured tooth and the root was intact. I prescribed Banamine for two days and a broad-spectrum antibiotic.
Treatment: The tooth was extracted in a 3 hour procedure. The gum was incised to remove the root. Recovery was uncomplicated and the mare is doing very well and still able to graze without any problems.
Complaint: This aged Quarter Horse gelding had not had his mouth examined or teeth floated in a few years. The owner was concerned that her horse was dropping grain while eating, chewing more slowly and drooling more than usual. Furthermore, she had noticed a faint odor to his breath.
Examination: On initial examination of the mouth, we noticed that the canine teeth #304/404 located on the lower jaw were encompassed with tartar. This tartar is concrete-like in composition. Often it accumulates due certain grain choices, drinking water that may be high in minerals and sometimes, it accumulates based on the make-up of the horse’s saliva. In addition to tartar on the canine teeth, other tartar had started to accumulate on other teeth. The mouth had a significant odor due to infection of the gums (periodontitis).
Treatment: We manually removed the tartar throughout the mouth. Periodontal inflammation was present where the tartar had embedded into the gum line. Antibiotics were infiltrated into the periodontal pockets (gingival tissue) after the mouth was thoroughly flushed with an antiseptic. The teeth were floated and the grinding surfaces of the teeth were brought into alignment to improve chewing. A mild anti-inflamatory/pain medicine was prescribed for 3 days. The owner reported that the horse improved almost immediately and is eating his hay and grain very well. We encouraged the owner to allow this gelding to graze as much as possible to help neutralize his saliva pH and maintain the health of the mouth.
Complaint: The owner called us to perform routine dentistry on his rescue gelding. This horse is approximately 24 years old and has been living in his current home for 5 years. The owner remarked that though his horse has gained a tremendous amount of weight since coming to his new home, he still struggles with maintaining adequate fit.
Examination: Upon oral examination, our first observation was that the horse has a decayed incisor with a dental carrie or cavity. The enamel of the tooth is absent and decay is established within the body of the tooth. Our second observation is that there is foodstuff packing between the teeth at the diastemas or up under the gums causing gingivitis. Finally, the underlying dental issue with this horse is EOTRH or Equine Odotoclastic Tooth Resporption and Hypercementosis This conditions causes resorptive lesions of the incisors and occasionally the canine teeth. Onset tends to be gradual and is usually seen in horses about 15 years or older. Because EOTRH is both inflammatory and causes the roots of the teeth to resorb or dissolve essentially, this conditions is very painful for the horse. As you can see in this photo, the gum line is retreating from the tooth enamel and there is an inflammatory line where the tooth and gum meet.
Treatment: Sadly, there is not a “fixable” treatment for this condition. X-rays would be the next diagnostic step in determining the condition of the tooth roots and any other signs of dental pathology. Ultimately, as this condition progresses, the treatment involves extracting the teeth to eliminate the pain for the horse. Although this seems like a drastic treatment modality, the horse will remarkably improve because the pain is eliminated. Furthermore, horses will learn to graze without the front teeth although we recommend that horses with incisor extractions are fed a supplemental diet (hay, grain etc)