Equine Veterinary Dental Program

Horse Skull

Equine dentistry has significantly increased its profile over the last 10 years. Vets had traditionally done a light float on all horses, taking approximately 10 minutes work once a year. However, in the last few years, the merits of detailed proper dentistry have started to surface. It was first recognized and embraced in performance horses, where the difference could be felt in the hands and seen in the attitude and suppleness of the horse. Broodmares were slower to tell us that they too were in trouble and needed assistance.

The corrections have shown their merit in significant weight gains in older horses and decreased colics. While we have not yet examined the figures, I feel that better body condition, and decreased oral pain, not only benefits performance horses, but also increases a mare's ability to become pregnant and carry a foal to term.

Many horses have overgrown incisors that prevent proper molar mastication. Traditionally, horses lived on plains and in the mountains, where they would walk up to 25 miles a day to find enough grass. Horses housed in stalls, and turned out on lush pastures, do not use their incisors enough for shearing course grasses. This may lead to incisor overgrowth from lack of sufficient attrition (wear). The range of motion of the mandible during mastication is affected by the nature and size of the food particles ingested. Horses on concentrate and pelleted diets have a limited range of jaw motion chewing when compared to horses on grass and long-stemmed hay roughage. The jaw excursion pattern has an effect on molar tooth wear and could explain why so many confined horses seem to have more problems with upper buccal and lower lingual enamel points on their arcades.

Hearn Veterinary Services works together with a certified Master equine dentist. It is our clinical impression that there has been a significant drop in the incidence of colic, and many individual cases have made excellent progress. An older horse with moderate dental problems often needs about 60 minutes of work. However, once corrected, the horse usually gains significant weight as he digests his feed more efficiently. Some horses have showed remarkable character changes following extensive work - some high strung horses suddenly relax. It is thought that this is due to relief of temporomandibular pain, which has been shown to cause severe headaches in humans. Though the problem is much more common in older horses, some younger horses can develop serious problems too - e.g.. broken teeth after head trauma, or severe hooks in parrot mouth conformations.

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