Over time horses have adapted to chew grass and other fibre.
They have a large proportion of their tooth below the gum line. This erupts throughout the horse’s lifetime at a rate of 2mm to 3mm per year. After approximately 30 years all of the reserve crown will have erupted and the horse will start to lose its teeth.
Your horse’s teeth should be examined at least once a year and sometimes more regularly if there are any major abnormalities.
The eruption is balanced by grinding forage against the dental surface. If this balance isn’t equal then overgrowth can occur, leading to ulcers.
Stabling a horse for long periods whilst maintaining on concentrates, which require less grinding, can predispose them to overgrowths.
The upper cheek teeth are set wider than the lower cheek teeth. When a horse is chewing it has a one-sided circular motion, which brings the upper and lower cheek teeth surfaces into contact, allowing them to wear evenly. Reduced chewing time allows for overgrowth of the outer edges of the upper cheek teeth and inner edges of the lower cheek teeth. These are known as enamel points and can lead to ulceration.
Other common dental abnormalities include displaced teeth, overgrown teeth (‘steps’), hooks, gaps between teeth (‘diastema’), periodontal disease, caries and fractured teeth.
You may see the following signs if your horse has a dental problem — dropping food (quidding), weight loss, bitting problems, head shaking, nasal discharge and facial swelling.
However, many horses may have sharp overgrowth and ulceration without showing any signs of pain.
Dentistry is an important part of the healthcare for your horse. Your horse’s teeth should be examined at least once a year and sometimes more regularly if there are any major abnormalities.
A mouth gag is necessary in order to provide a thorough, safe examination of the teeth. Some horses may require sedation in order to place the gag. Veterinary surgeons are able to provide sedation, pain relief and local anaesthesia to aid the examination and reduce the stress for the horse and improve handler safety.
A variety of motorised and manual rasps are available. Any sharp overgrowths will be rasped down to produce a smooth surface in order to prevent further trauma. The motorised rasps are particularly useful for reducing large overgrowths.
By Charlotte Hewitt-Dedman, Vet