The function of a horses teeth seem obvious to us as it nips off the grass with its incisors and transfers it back to the molars for grinding. When the food is ground into the finest particles possible and mixed with enough saliva it then moves to the gut where it is broken down.
Without correctly maintained teeth the horse has difficulty grinding hay and grain into fine enough particles for proper nutrient utilization.
Here are some of the most common problems often found in lack of dental treatment: Lacerated cheeks and tongue, hooks on front upper arcade or rear lower hooks, retained caps, sores, ulcers or bitting injuries.
Any of these problems can cause a number of behavioural problems and keep a horse from maintaining condition and giving its full potential.
From the age of two to five the horse's mouth is in a volatile state going through changes such as cutting or losing twenty-four milk teeth and the eruption of thirty-six permanent teeth. They may also go through the eruption of up to four wolf teeth and four canines depending on sex. The horse will have a full set of permanent teeth by the age of five. The mouth continues to change through life but not to the same extent as during this age period.
Dental care normally begins as a yearling, even if it's just an examination. This is a good time to treat them, as removing any wolf teeth that may have erupted and floating the sharp edges can help when it comes to mouthing and breaking in.
A horse may get from one to four or no wolf teeth at all and they come in all shapes and sizes.
The wolf teeth are usually positioned in front of the first premolar and as they lie in the path of the bit they can be the root of a lot of problems but in saying this they don't affect all horses. I extract all wolf teeth to eliminate any chance of a problem occurring.
As the upper jaw is normally wider than the lower jaw, this allows for a circular grinding motion thereby creating a sharp edge on the outside of the upper molars and a sharp edge on the inside of the lower molars. As pressure is applied on the bit it squeezes on the checks and tongue, causing these sharp edges to cut the gum and tongue and bleed.
From the age of two to five the horse starts erupting its permanent molars causing its caps to shred. As these caps are loosening they become very sensitive to pressure. They will often loose their appetite, dribbling food, eat with their head to the side, have bad breath and bitting problems ocur. Its best to extract caps as soon as possible to avoid these problems but often you will find they fall out themselves as the permanent molars push through.
The most obvious sign of dental trouble is a change in chewing habits. The horse may dribble feed, wash feed their water bucket and may hold their head to side when eating.
The horse may quid their food in which it is rolled into a ball and dropped to the ground rather than chewed. They may pack food up into the sides of their checks to make it more comfortable and they develop bad breath.
The horse may develop habits such and cribbing chewing things.
Under saddle the horse may head toss, or tilt. Grasp the bit between teeth or not take a contact at all. Steering and hanging problems may occur. The horse may begin to rear and be generally unsettled and unwilling to perform correctly and consistently.
It is recommended to have your horse looked at twice a year but I have found that a horse needs dental treatment simply when it is needed weather it be weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly. If a horse has sustained a mouth injury it needs immediate attentions. If a cap begins to cause a problem it needs extracted as soon as you can contact you Equine Dentist, they may even have to return a couple of weeks later to extract another as they don't all shred at the same time.
Most dental problems are preventable with regular dental maintenance.