Proper dental care for healthy horses

Paul Westfall, County Extension Director, Granville County
Nov. 17, 2013 @ 09:30 AM

Most of us want our horses to stay with us for as long as possible. Making sure they receive good dental care is one piece of the puzzle in keeping them happy and healthy into old age and longer.

As the Center for Equine Health at UC-Davis points out in its December 2011 Horse Report, equine dentistry is not just floating teeth.

Good oral health cannot be separated from the health of the rest of the horse. Dental care should start at a young age, and carry on with regular check-ups. Problems can then be identified and dealt with pro-actively before serious problems develop.

Current research is showing that equine teeth that function normally and have normal grinding patterns actually wear more slowly and last longer. The better the teeth are maintained, the longer the horse can grind forages and feeds. That in turn affects the ability to digest the forage and grain that is ingested.

Nutritional problems such as chronic colic, weight loss and nutritional deficiencies can develop if forages and grains are not chewed properly.

In time, oral pain can become a bad problem, with the horse suddenly not performing well. When this happens, a visit to the vet clinic may be in order. Check out Dr. Lloyd Heron’s blog for a discussion on the equine tooth extraction process. Just looking at those photos makes one think that equine dental care is another place where an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. My translation is that it is better to spend a little money now and then on dental care for the horse than to wait until there is a really big problem and pay a big vet hospitalization and surgery bill that might have been preventable.

Regular dental care will help prevent problems such as sharp enamel points lacerating the cheeks or tongue, retained caps (deciduous teeth that are not shed), hooks and ramps forming on the first upper and last lower cheek teeth, lost or broken teeth, abnormally long teeth, and infected teeth or gums.

The UC-Davis newsletter has a pretty good discussion on equine dental care. It also has some good photos of problems identified in a dental exam. It and Dr. Heron’s tooth extraction discussion are worth reviewing.

To sum it all up, good dental care is vital to the overall health and well being of horses. Good dental care will help ensure that horses reach and enjoy their golden years. With it being pretty common for horses to live into their 30’s, let’s be sure that their teeth are up to the task of chewing and grinding their forages and feeds properly in those later years.

For more information on equine nutrition and care of horses, contact the Vance County Cooperative Extension Center at (252) 438-8188 or the Granville County center at (919) 603-1350.