Dentistry across all mammalian species has progressed by leaps and bounds over the past 30 years for a multitude of reasons. Today, though, I’m going to concentrate on equine dentistry. Because the teeth in a horse’s mouth continually erupt the reasons for regular dental maintenance are a little different than in other animals. Abnormal conformation or wear becomes accentuated by the constant eruption and wear process. Also, the teeth inside a horse’s mouth will change fairly dramatically year-to-year. For instance, within one year a young horse will lose 4 or more deciduous teeth. Loosing a tooth, as I’m sure we can all remember, is not always a pleasant experience (also remember that horses don’t have a tooth fairy to sweeten the deal). Remember trying to eat with a loose tooth? Fairly uncomfortable from what I remember! Then after the tooth is lost it uncovers a razor-sharp adult tooth. To make matters worse add a bit to the equation and don’t forget this is a time in the horse’s life when they’re expected to be at their peak performance level.
Apart from the loss of deciduous teeth and the eruption of permanent teeth, why else do we recommend yearly dental examinations and floats? As mentioned above, continually erupting (hypsodont) teeth need continual correction. If correction is not kept up with hooks, ramps, waves, and steps will slowly progress until they destroy the opposing teeth and potentially do permanent damage to the underlying bone. These corrections should always include the removal of sharp points that cut into the inside of their cheeks turning the tissue into hamburger. The corrective procedures performed during floats also corrects waves, ramps, hooks, and steps that may occur in horses with abnormal wear characteristics or abnormal conformation. It is also important to note a horse’s teeth erupt at a rate of 3-4mm each year, thus giving reason for re-floating teeth every year because at the end of the year many of those abnormal wear patterns and points will have reoccurred.
A severe overbite can prevent effective grazing and if left unchecked can cause severe damage
Let’s also not forget about the performance advantage that we get from horses that don’t have sore mouths. Apart from lameness, stomach ulcers, and sore mouths from bad dentition are the main reasons for decreased performance. I cannot count the number of times we have seen a horse step up their performance after a much needed dental float. In fact, we commonly float 2-3 year old racehorses’ teeth every 3-4 months to be sure the loose deciduous teeth get removed on time and the new sharp permanent teeth get blunted to prevent lacerations of the tongue and cheek tissue.
Severe hooks can cause serious damage to the opposing jaw
Everybody knows that if a horse is losing weight you should check their mouths for bad teeth but I would implore you move past that paradigm and look at dentistry in horses for its prophylactic value to maintain comfort in your horses’ mouths. Look at the progression that human dentistry has taken over the past 75 years- it went from dentists pulling teeth that were hurting to regular dental teeth cleaning, x-rays, and cosmetic orthodontics. We ask a lot from our horses, I think it’s pretty fair for us to keep their mouths from causing them pain every time we ride them or every time they eat.