Research suggests that as many as two thirds of horses will be experiencing dental
problems leading to pain at any one time. Younger horses (less than 6 years of age) and older horses (over 15 years of age) are more vulnerable. The teeth of foals and young horses are softer while older horses will develop
brittle or diseased teeth that break and infections in the tissue around the teeth.
The horse’s evolutionary niche as a trickle feeding prey animal means that horses don’t show any overt behavioural changes in its eating behaviour although the affected horse will often show facial expressions consistent with pain (see Figure 2). Reluctance to eat, behaviour changes around the bit and bitting, smelly
breath, or dropping feedstuffs when eating are all indications of possibly severe dental disease and should be immediately investigated.
Any horse that has problems maintaining adequate body condition must have a
thorough dental exam as part of the workup by your veterinarian.
Other disease states that can arise out of dental problems include:
• Misbehaviour due to pain (see Figure 2)
• Respiratory disease
• Heart disease
• Choke and colic
The horse’s tooth roots are very long. They lie close to the wall of the respiratory passages. Any infection in the tooth can spread through the surrounding tissue and create infection in the respiratory system. Problems like
this can cause poor performance in the racing animal. Any infection in the soft tissue around the teeth also gives bacteria access to the blood stream. The bacteria will travel to other parts of the horse’s body including the
reproductive system and, commonly, the thin leaflets that make up the valves in the heart.
Here they create nodules of abnormal tissue that ultimately lead to scar tissue that prevent the valves closing properly. This creates leakage in the heart which we can hear as a murmur. The leaky valves reduce the cardiac output. Again,
this is not desirable in a racehorse which needs all the physiological systems operating optimally.
A complete dental examination requires that the horse be sedated, and all aspects of the teeth be inspected with a combination of a light and dental mirrors. It is especially important to inspect the big molars at the back of the mouth. These teeth can develop sharp edges that lacerate both the cheeks and the tongue especially when rein tension causes the bridle and bit to press the cheeks against them.
These sharp edges are often found in horses that lug or show blood in their mouths after work from lacerations to the cheek or tongue tissues.
Only a veterinarian can sedate your horse for a dental examination, contact your local equine veterinarian to find a suitable equine dentist and discuss your horse’s needs.
To find out more about what your horses may need, click the following link: