JUST like us, the dental arcade of a horse consists of incisors, canines, pre-molars and molars – all adapted to enable horses to graze all day, every day.
They are designed to grind down abrasive material to allow the rest of their digestive system to work efficiently. Horses have extremely long roots to their cheek teeth, often about 10cm long. This enables them to have a long working life as their surface is worn down through the chewing motion by 2mm to 3mm per year, and with many horses and ponies living into their 30’s that’s a long time to last.
The action of a horse’s jaw grinding down roughage, such as hay and grass, from side to side in a rotational motion helps level wear across the surface of the cheek teeth. The modern horse diet often consists of a high level of concentrate feed, which requires a different motion of chewing, more front to back and making it more likely to develop sharp points on the teeth.
Upkeep of horses’ teeth is essential to maintain weight and good condition. Factors such as age and diet affect the condition of horses’ teeth.
Like us, often more problems come with older age. Spaces known as ‘diastemas’ commonly develop between teeth where food can impact, loose teeth that can cause pain or the surface of the teeth can become smooth, making it more difficult to grind down roughage.
Young horses can run into problems too. With baby teeth having to make way for their permanent adult replacements, trouble can arise when they don’t give way properly or adult teeth emerge in the wrong place. Young horses can have a problem with their first pre-molars, known as the ‘wolf teeth’. These can be an issue when being ridden as they lie just where the bit sits in the mouth, but can be easily removed to make them more comfortable.
General maintenance of teeth includes rasping down sharp points that can arise on edges of the cheek teeth, which grate on the inside of their mouth causing discomfort. Signs to watch out for include dropping of food, known as ‘quidding’, foul smelling breath, nasal discharge, excess salivation or swellings on the side of the face. When being ridden they might resent having the bridle put on, resent contact or be a bit more stiff on one rein than the other. If after winter coming into this spring they aren’t putting on condition like you would expect, or are losing weight inexplicably, teeth may be the root of the problem.
Like vaccinations and worming control, dental maintenance should be part of your yearly routine, having checks every six to 12 months to help keep your horse happy and comfortable.
By EILISH BUSBY, Vet