Healthy Teeth, Happy Horse
By Louise Marron, DVM, DAVDC
As the field of veterinary medicine has evolved, the importance of high quality dental care has become increasingly apparent. The mouth serves a vital role as the entry point for nutrition, the foundation of health. In fact, oral health is important for all of the other organs and body systems for a variety of reasons.
The best thing you can do for your horse’s dental health is schedule an annual oral exam with a knowledgeable veterinarian. Most horses will need to have their teeth floated at the same time the exam is performed. Floating involves filing off sharp points, which form along the edges of the teeth as a result of the teeth grinding against each other during chewing.
The procedure starts with a series of questions intended to gain an understanding of the horse’s health history, diet, housing, and performance. Next, we turn to observation of your horse’s general health. The examination is then focused on exterior facial structures. This part looks like your horse is getting a head massage. While we palpate your horse’s skull, chewing muscles, lymph nodes, and TMJ joints, it gives us an opportunity to connect with him and gain trust.
After carefully listening to your horse’s heart to verify healthy function, sedation is administered to help your horse relax for the more intrusive, yet highly important, oral examination. Adult horses have 36 to 42 teeth. Each tooth is examined individually, along with the other intra-oral structures (gums, tongue, cheeks, and palate). When certain abnormalities are noted on visual examination, x-rays may be needed to further evaluate the tooth roots and jaw bones.
It is preferable to identify dental problems in early stages when treatment can restore the health of the affected tooth and eliminate pain it is causing. There are rarely outward signs of dental problems until disease is in advanced stages. By that time, the horse has been suffering and treatment often becomes more difficult and expensive.
By staying up to date with annual veterinary dental care, you can feel confident that you have done your part to prevent dental disease and help keep your horse’s mouth comfortable and functional for a long happy life!