horse dental

How old should my horse be before their first dental?

Many equine veterinarians agree the first dental should take place between six and 12 months of age. At Exclusively Equine, we usually conduct your horse’s first dental examination at nine to twelve months of age, unless dental problems are encountered earlier.  There are many reasons that dental care begins early in your horse’s life, which we’ll explore in this article.  Early Dental Care  One reason in particular is that your foal is born with teeth and they begin erupting into the mouth during the first week of life. This means they can start causing dental problems from a very early age if not monitored and managed.  As a horse owner, you have an important role to play in your foal’s dental health. Following birth, you should examine your foal’s mouth and look for any signs of abnormality. If you notice anything unusual, consult your veterinarian so dental problems can be treated early.  Wolf Teeth and Deciduous Teeth  Another consideration is the changes that take place inside your horse’s mouth during their first year of life, including the eruption of wolf teeth and the shedding of deciduous teeth.  Between five and 12 months of age, wolf teeth begin to erupt into the mouth, and they may vary in terms of size, shape and location. At times, wolf teeth need to be professionally extracted as they come into contact with the bit during your foal’s education. Click here to learn more.  Over the first few years of life, most young horses will also shed an average of 24 deciduous, or baby, teeth to make way for their adult teeth. A whopping 36 to 44 adult teeth will erupt over the following years, so there’s a lot of activity taking place that can lead to dental problems.  Early Education and Training  Lastly, young horses are bred for pleasure or performance and, as such, will require training in-hand and under-saddle during their first years of life. With professional dental care, dental problems can be avoided that would otherwise interrupt their progress.  It’s important to remember that any issues that arise during training shouldn’t be disregarded. As your horse’s mouth changes, they may experience pain or discomfort, including when first bitted. Always consider their dental health — don’t assume it’s simply a behavioural problem.  

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How can I tell if my horse needs a dental?

There are many common signs that your horse is due for a dental examination. Every horse requires a dental check at least once per year. However, as uneven wear and dental disease arise, it’s important you know what to look out for.  Regular dental care is paramount for your horse’s health, wellbeing and performance. Without healthy dentition, your horse is unable to chew, digest and absorb the nutrients in their food — leading to loss of condition, health problems and poor performance. Due to their unique dentition — whereby your horse’s teeth erupt throughout their life — your horse requires a dental examination at least once per year. In addition, any horse above 16 years of age or with a history of dental problems will require two or more dental checks annually. However, uneven tooth wear and dental disease, resulting in pain and discomfort, can arise between check-ups. So, how do you know if there are problems? Signs of Dental Problems  Dropping food, also called quidding, is one of the common signs that your horse is due for a dental. Most often, when your horse experiences pain at feed time, they may adopt an unusual chewing pattern to alleviate this comfort and, thus, drop their food. However, quidding is not the only common sign of dental problems. You may also notice: Dull coat Loss of condition Head shaking or tossing Excessive saliva production Poor appetite or reluctance to eat Bad breath Nasal discharge Blood in the saliva Blood on the bit Undigested feed in the manure Head tilting while eating Colic Facial swelling Behavioural problems If your horse is showing any of these signs, we encourage you to contact your equine veterinarian immediately. Dental problems can quickly lead to other health and behavioural issues, which cause distress to your horse.

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My horse has wolf teeth. What should I do?

Wolf teeth are found in around 70% of horses, including both fillies and colts. Often, wolf teeth can remain inside your horse’s mouth without causing any issues. However, they may become painful if they come into contact with the bit – requiring professional extraction. Wolf teeth normally erupt between five and 12 months of age, but they don’t continue to erupt like other cheek teeth. In fact, in some horses, wolf teeth don’t emerge through the gums at all. These are called blind or unerupted wolf teeth. Regardless of whether the wolf tooth are erupted or not, their position in the mouth may influence your horse’s comfort. A wolf tooth that remains clear of the bit won’t result in pain. But, if their loca-tion does impact the bit or if you change bits, you may encounter pain avoidance behaviours. These include: • Head tossing • Head tilting • Rearing • Pulling hard • Tongue over the bit • Reluctance to take a lead Wolf Teeth Removal Many equine dental veterinarians recommend the removal of wolf teeth for several reasons. Not only does their extraction prevent possible pain, but it creates more space in your horse’s mouth to examine, clean and contour both upper and lower cheek teeth throughout their life. Removing wolf teeth is usually a simple procedure, and should only be performed by a qualified equine dental veterinarian who is licensed to use sedation and local anaesthetic for your horse’s comfort. The procedure may take anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour. Prior to their removal, your horse should be vaccinated against Tetanus. Small puncture wounds, including teeth extractions, are the ideal environment for the Tetanus bacteria – clostridium tetani – to thrive. To learn more about Tetanus vaccination, click here.

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How often should I get my horse’s teeth done?

Without routine dental care, your horse’s health, wellbeing and performance will suffer. Every horse should receive a dental examination at least once per year, but more frequent check-ups may be required for your horse.  Unlike humans, your horse’s teeth continue to erupt throughout their life. This unique physiology, combined with their innate chewing behaviours, can result in sharp enamel points that cause discomfort to the lips, cheeks and tongue. Dental Examination A dental examination by a qualified equine veterinarian at least once per year will help to prevent the development of dental diseases and reduce the formation of uneven teeth. Your horse should receive their first dental at nine months of age. For any horse above the age of 16, dental examinations should be increased to twice yearly. And, of course, if your horse has experienced dental problems at any age, they may require more frequent dental examinations. Signs of Dental Problems The importance of dental care cannot be underestimated. Without healthy dentition, your horse will be unable to chew, digest and properly absorb their feed, which can drastically reduce their condition – and be costly to your back pocket. However, dental problems can also lead to behavioural issues, long-term poor health and severe dental disease. There are several common signs that may indicate a dental problem, including: Dull coat, weight loss Head shaking, head tossing Spilling feed while eating Blood in the saliva, blood on the bit Excessive saliva production Poor appetite, reluctance to eat Bad breath, discharge from nostril Undigested feed in the manure Behavioural problems Head tilting during eating, eating slowly Facial swelling Colic Even if your horse has recently had a dental examination, these signs should alert you to the possibility of a dental problem. If any of these signs arise, we recommend you consult your equine veterinarian for further advice.

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My horse is dropping weight unexpectedly. What should I do?

There are three common reasons for unexpected weight loss. These include inadequate diet, poor dental care and ineffective worming. If your horse is losing weight unexpectedly, then you should assess these three areas to ensure their needs are being met.  Nutrition  As a general rule, every horse should be consuming 2-3% of their bodyweight in feed every day. Feeding low-quality roughage or providing an inadequate level of calories in your horse’s daily feed ration are two of the most common culprits behind unexpected weight loss. The nutritional requirements of horses must be met at every stage of life. Young, growing horses, lactating mares and equine athletes will have higher requirements for calories and protein than pleasure horses. Remember, seasonal and hormonal changes can also affect senior horses and mares in oestrus, resulting in weight loss during Winter and weight gain during Summer. Dental Care Without regular dental care, your horse may find it uncomfortable or even painful to chew their food. At any age, sharp enamel points, caused by uneven wear, missing or misaligned teeth, can cause mild to severe discomfort. From nine months of age, every horse should receive a dental examination at least once a year. However, as your horse ages, the need for regular dental checks will increase. Any horse aged 16 or older should receive a minimum of two dental examinations per year. Weight loss due to poor dentition is most commonly seen in senior horses. Proper chewing and, thus, digestion will support your senior horse’s ability to absorb nutrients and maintain a healthy weight.  Worming  While most horses can live in harmony with some intestinal parasites, any high worm burden can have long-term impacts on your horse’s intestinal health and ability to absorb nutrients, leading to severe weight loss and malnutrition. Every horse should be wormed every 8-12 weeks depending on the product you use. It’s also vital you assess the effectiveness of your worming program with a faecal egg count prior to worming and a faecal egg count reduction test several weeks later. Providing your horse with an adequate dose of the wormer most effective against the parasites affecting them is the only way to protect them against damage to the digestive tract.

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Should I remove my horses wolf teeth?

Wolf teeth are found in 70% of horses, including fillies and colts. Most often, wolf teeth can remain inside your horse’s mouth without causing any issues. However, they do contain nerves and will cause pain if they come into contact with the bit. Wolf teeth usually erupt between five and 12 months of age, but don’t continue to erupt during your horse’s lifetime like other cheek teeth. As the horse has evolved into the domestic animals we know today, their teeth have grown in size, making the smaller wolf tooth redundant when chewing. In some instances, wolf teeth don’t emerge through the gums. These are called blind or unerupted wolf teeth. If a wolf tooth remains clear of the bit during riding or driving, your horse won’t experience any discomfort, regardless of whether it has erupted or not. However, if a wolf tooth comes into contact with the bit, for example, if you change bits, then pain avoidance behaviors can occur. These include: Many equine dental veterinarians recommend the removal of cheek teeth to avoid these bit issues while creating more space in the horse’s mouth to easily examine, clean, and contour the upper and lower cheek teeth. Like any other dental procedure, wolf teeth should only be removed by a qualified equine dental veterinarian, using sedation and local anesthetic (See Images of Procedure). As wolf teeth come in many shapes and sizes, the procedure may take only a few minutes or up to 20 minutes. Ensure your horse is protected against tetanus prior to any tooth extraction. Small puncture wounds, like tooth removal, are the ideal environment for the tetanus bacteria, clostridium tetani, to thrive. Mares and geldings should both be protected against this deadly disease.

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My horse keeps dropping food. What does that mean?

Dropping food is one of the most common signs your horse is due for a dental. Over time, uneven wear causes sharp enamel points on your horse’s teeth, which can lead to pain and discomfort when chewing. If your horse is dropping food, a dental check is best.  Every horse requires a dental examination at least once a year. Foals should receive their first dental at nine months of age, with yearly dentals until they are 16. Senior horses, aged 16 and over, should receive dental check-ups at least twice yearly. Due to the horse’s unique anatomy, their teeth continue to erupt throughout their life. Without regular maintenance, uneven wear, dental disease and digestive problems can result, which affect your horse’s health, wellbeing and, ultimately, their performance. If your horse is dropping feed, it’s highly likely they are experiencing some pain or discomfort while chewing. To alleviate this, they may adopt an unusual chewing pattern and, thus, drop food. Dropping food is one of the most common signs that your horse needs a dental examination. However, you may also notice some of the other common indicators which suggest dental disease, including: Dull coat Loss of condition Head shaking or tossing Excessive saliva production Poor appetite or reluctance to eat Bad breath Nasal discharge Blood in the saliva Blood on the bit Undigested feed in the manure Head tilting while eating Colic Facial swelling Behavioural problems A dental examination by a qualified veterinarian is the only way to identify dental problems. Using specialised equipment, sedatives and analgesics, a veterinarian will be able to examine and treat every tooth, and diagnose disease.

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