Dental Care For Older Horses

The sooner dental disease is identified the easier it is to avoid the conditions and medical bills that go with it. It can be difficult for owners to spot dental disease. Kate Southorn shares some simple checks you can do.

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The sooner dental disease is identified the easier it is to avoid the excessive weight loss, pain, sickness and big feed and medical bills that go with it. It can be difficult for owners to spot dental disease, but there are some simple checks you can do.

Detecting Problems

Monitor your horses weight, look at the whole horse, if their coat is thick use hands to feel. Take photos from front, back and sides to use for reference. Weight estimation with tapes or body condition score charts is less accurate in older horses, so if you are struggling we can give you individual advice. Unplanned weight loss may indicate dental disease.

Look at and feel your horse’s head and check for changes in symmetry including swellings/bumps, muscle loss in the checks and forehead, discharge from the eyes, nose or unpleasant odour from the nose or mouth.

Watch your horse eating bucket food and grass or forage. Check he can access food from the bucket/net/ground and is not being bullied away from food by others or is not able to access the food due to mobility problems. Check for balls of food dropped after chewing (quidding) or packing in the checks when eating (soft swellings that come and go). When eating hard food, look for changes in the speed of eating or leaving courser feed (chaff or forage) in the bucket. Horses chew to the left and to the right in a lop-sided figure of eight motion. If you watch your horse chewing 40 times, they should chew approximately 20 times in each direction. Chewing a lot in one direction is a sign of pain on one side of the mouth.

You should have regular dental examinations in older horses, every 6 months, or when there is
a problem. These can be done by your vet, who can also check the rest of the horse, offer adviceand treatment for all aspects of horse health and wellbeing, as well as carrying out the dentistry required. Dental checks are free with vaccines and annual health checks.

Common Dental Conditions

Smooth mouth – teeth worn away hence unable to grind food.

Tooth loss

Displacements – teeth fall over or move from their normal position and rub against checks or tongue.

Malocclusions – when teeth are very worn, lost or displaced the opposing teeth can become over grown. Overgrown teeth obstruct normal chewing and reduce the horses ability to chew. Common conditions such as wave mouth or hooks and ramps, will develop into severe malocclusions if regular dental treatments are not carried out.

Periodontal (gum) disease – gaps develop between the teeth (diastema) because the teeth get smaller as they wear down and the angulation reduces so the teeth are not compressed together as efficiently. Tooth loss or displacement also results in gaps and are more common in old horses where the teeth are shorter.

Diastema – gaps between the incisor (front) teeth are also common, these don’t usually cause problems and can be managed by owners brushing food out of the gaps with a nail or denture brush.

Calculus – tartar build up on the lower canines can lead to sore gums, these are easily removed at routine dental exam.

Sharp enamel points – even worn teeth get sharp edges which cause damage to the cheeks and tongue.

Dental Treatments

Older horses often find the motorised dental equipment more comfortable and it allows
us to reduce overgrowths and sharp edges on slightly wobbly teeth more easily. The edges of displaced teeth can be bevelled to avoid food trapping. Severely diseased or loose teeth that cause pain are extracted. Gaps between teeth can be flushed out and packed to allow healing.

The aim of treatment is to reduce pain, prevent further dental disease, facilitate chewing and maintain as much functional tooth as possible.

Where it is not possible to improve grinding ability due to tooth loss or smooth mouth, treatment focuses on keeping the mouth comfortable and advising on dietary management to keep the horse healthy.

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