We all know from our own experience that teeth are one of the foundations to good health. Teeth are the starting point of the digestive process and keeping them in good health is a vital element to maintaining a happy and healthy horse. Here we look at how to keep your horse's teeth healthy.
The Anatomy of our equine's mouth
A normal mature horse should have around 36 to 42 teeth, depending on whether they are male or female, and whether they have wolf teeth or not.
The incisors are the teeth that you see immediately inside the horse's lips and are used for nibbling grass,when needing to defend and also for grooming both themselves and other horses. They are also very important in the biomechanics of mastication (chewing and breaking down food).
The health of the incisors, the way they are worn and the length of them can determine how efficiently the grinding teeth further back in the mouth do their job when it comes to chewing and breaking down food.
The majority of male horses have four canine teeth immediately behind the incisors but these are not present in the majority of mares. If a mare does have canines, they are usually much smaller and only present on the bottom jaw.
Most equestrians will be familiar with wolf teeth, which are small horse teeth that are often found just in front of the first large grinding teeth in both males and females. Veterinarians usually recommend removing these teeth when your equine begins ridden work as they can cause discomfort due to the positioning of the bit.
As you get towards the back of the mouth, you will find the premolars. These are used to grind the roughage in a horse's diet, such as hay. The premolars are known as the work force of the mouth as they break down the most important element in an equine's diet and forage!
Together the premolars and the molar teeth total 24, arranged in four arcades of six teeth forming rows, which grind and break down food through their action and the corrugated surfaces of the teeth.
Why do we need to take care of our horse's teeth and mouths?
Teeth don't regenerate so our horse's teeth are designed to last for their lifetime. This means taking care of this element of our horse's health is crucial to help prevent problems such as disease, decay or abnormal wear patterns which can cause discomfort or shorten the functional life of the teeth.
Dental health is one of the main elements that determines the ultimate health of the horse - in addition to nutritional support of course. However considering that the mouth is where the digestive process begins - if a horse has compromised dentition then they may take longer to masticate feed, drop and waste food, or suffer from health problems such as choke from trying to swallow and digest food that has not been properly chewed.
Undigested food can also cause blockages further along the digestive tract and potentially lead to gut issues such as colic. When you bear these things in mind then it puts perspective on the importance of maintaining healthy dentition in your horse.
Keeping your horse's teeth healthy
Keeping on top of your horse's dental health is essential and it is recommended to have his teeth checked every 6 - 12 months at least. Your Equine Dental Technician will advise if your horse requires more frequent support.
Abnormalities such as hooks, displaced teeth, stepped teeth, diseased teeth, fractured teeth, periodontal disease, and other conditions can cause anything from minor to excruciating pain. Your horse may or may not 'let you know' about these issues through their behaviour so regular check-ups are crucial to ensure comfort and support your horse's digestive health, while also being proactive in protecting longevity of their teeth.
Young horses may need more regular check ups between the ages of 2 - 6 years old as their dentition changes more frequently in the earlier years.
Likewise as a horse ages he may need more dental health support to ensure that he can chew and digest food properly.
Horses with demanding competition schedules might also need more frequent exams to keep them comfortable and performing at their best.
Always choose a qualified equine dental technician or a veterinarian that specialises in equine dentistry to check and attend to your horse's teeth.