Equine Dentistry – Part 1

Equine Dentistry – Part 1 15 August, 2011
– Carel Vosloo

Why Do We Need To Maintain Horses Teeth?

Carel Vosloo, an Equine Dental Technician, explains that the teeth of a horse that are looked after from a young age will last longer, and the horse will probably maintain a better physical condition, even into a potential aged broodmare.

The prime reasons for Equine Dentistry are:

  • Preventing tooth loss and promote more complete utilization of feed,
  • Reduce the incidence of impaction and gas colic, alleviate tempormandibular joint pain,
  • Allow a less stressful eruption of the permanent teeth by the timely removal of shedding deciduous teeth (caps) in young     horses;
  • Prevent pain due to the use of a bit, making it easier for the horse to be trained, and to provide other benefits.

    Many horse ailments can be traced back to a dental problem and treating the symptom not the cause is like using an Elastoplast to treat a broken bone.

    A horse’s mouth left without dental care can have dire consequences, not just for his weight but for the rest of his body and overall well-being. If a horse is unable to chew his food properly, he cannot digest it effectively and this may result in colic or the horse not utilizing the nutrition he can get out of the food to the full. The result is the owner essentially wasting money trying to keep condition on the horse and possible vet bills, especially if a horse is losing condition and the owner is doing everything he can to assist which can be very frustrating. The horse may also become “head-shy” where he won’t co-operate with his handlers when it comes to putting a bridle or a head-collar on, or even a simple task such as brushing or handling his head for fear of pain.

    Importantly, regular dentistry should also leave a horse with a responsive mouth for the rider.

    In an ideal situation, a horse should have its mouth checked or attended to before he goes into training, from about the age of two. Between the ages of two and four, a horse will experience the most changes in his mouth and this is the time frame where problems are likely to occur and the chance to have them corrected. After the age of six when the horse’s mouth is developed, it is difficult to try and repair problems that have set in if the horse hasn’t received treatment before.

    Signs that a horse’s mouth needs attention are when the horse starts getting uncomfortable in his mouth or bridle, not eating properly because he is feeling some pain and he might begin losing weight and condition. If the horse is uncomfortable or in pain it will probably throw his performance out. Other signs will be copious amounts of food falling out the horse’s mouth while he is chewing, excessive saliva and drooling, possible difficulty in drinking and in extreme cases, facial pain and swelling, and possibly an unpleasant odour.

    It is also important to note that a horse’s incisor and molar teeth erupt continuously throughout his life, at a rate of about 4mm per year, and between the ages of two and six years old, a horse should have his mouth seen to by a professional every six months. After a horse is six years old and has maintained a correct development in his mouth, his routine can be changed to an annual visit.

    Whilst a tendon pull might be as a result of over-exertion, it could also be traced back to a dental issue – the consequence of a horse not having his teeth checked regularly is that he could become a head-shaker or carry his head in an uncomfortable position whilst he is in work, which in turn can cause back problems because the horse is not using himself properly and efficiently and can result in him possibly damaging his legs or tendons because he is overcompensating so much for the pain in his mouth, which will in turn affect his soundness and performance.

    In Part II, we look at the development of the mouth in the young horse.

    Carel Vosloo
    – Equine Dental Technician

    Carel Vosloo qualified as an Equine Dental Technician from the American School of Equine Dentistry in November 2009. Currently, he treats horses in all disciplines across South Africa and Zimbabwe. Carel is an endurance rider, and has competed in endurance races in Dubai. He is currently based in Ashburton, outside Pietermaritzburg with his wife Kerry and two daughters. If you would like to contact Carel please phone 083 784 6372 or email carel.vosloo@gmail.com.

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