Horses are well adapted to grazing. Their front teeth (incisors) function to bite off forage while the cheek teeth (premolars and molars) act to grind the feed so it can be easily digested. Horses have baby teeth (deciduous) and adult (permanent) teeth. The baby teeth are usually in place by 8 months of age, and by 2.5 years those teeth are being replaced by adult teeth. Most horses have all of their adult teeth by age 5. However, the horses’ tooth is constantly erupting throughout their life. The silica and fiber in the horses diet constantly wears the teeth down. The inside of the tooth, cementum portion, is softer than the outside, enamel portion.
Problems may arise as the teeth wear. The teeth are slightly off set which can lead to the outside of the upper teeth and the inside of the lower teeth developing sharp ridges. Every horses’ teeth align somewhat differently, and when this alignment is uneven, ramps and hooks can arise as the teeth erupt. These changes, if not addressed, often lead to problems chewing and processing food and even weight loss. Improperly chewed feed can lead to choke and colic. Furthermore any of the above mentioned, ridges, ramps, and hooks may affect your horse’s response to the bit.
Routine dental care is vital for the health and longevity of your horse. As your horse ages his or her teeth are constantly changing. Teeth should be checked for sharp points on at least an annual but preferably bi-annual basis.
If sharp points or abnormal wear are detected your horse will need a float. Floating is the procedure that basically grinds down sharp points and uneven wear to get the horse's mouth back into proper alignment. This procedure is most commonly done on a yearly basis, but horses that have severe dental problems may need to be done every six months.
Recognizing Dental Problems
Dental problems can present themselves in many different ways. Below is a list of signs commonly associated with dental disease:
• Excessive dropping of feed or excessive salivation
• Weight loss
• Large undigested feed particles in the manure
• Head tilting or tossing, fighting the bit, or resistance to bridling
• Foul odor from the mouth or nostrils
• Puss like nasal discharge
• Swelling of the face or jaw