Every year about this time we get brief glimpses of spring. With every brief glimpse comes the realization that it is time to get our horses ready for the up coming riding season when a large percentage of horse owners engage in the majority of their activities. Dentists and farriers alike refer to this time of year as the “Spring Rush”. This article will provide you with a Horseman’s Dental Checklist to help you determine if your horse needs to see the dentist. As a horse owner, it is my belief that annual dental maintenance is the key to consistent function, condition and performance. As a horse dentist, just like the feet, teeth continually grow; as it is with hooves, it is easier to regularly maintain good teeth than it is to continually chase after and repair
OUTWARD SIGNS TO LOOK FOR:
OVERALL CONDITION OF YOUR HORSE
-Is he in good condition as he usually is?
-Is he in the same condition as the other horses in the same pen, on the same feed?
BEHAVIORAL DIFFERENCES OBSERVED
-Is he more aggressive around the feed than usual?
-Are there large particles of unchewed feed in his manure?
-Does he stretch his neck or tilt and tip his head when eating grain or pellets?
AGE OF THE HORSE
-Is he a young horse going through developmental years (growth patterns/changing teeth)?
-Is he an older horse where some teeth may be expired?
USE OF THE HORSE
-What will you be using your horse for, what will he be expected to do this season?
HANDLING/RIDING BEHAVIOR CHANGES
-Is he evasive and difficult to halter or bridle?
-Does he fuss with the bit in his mouth?
-Does he respond appropriately and consistently to bit pressure?
-Does he favor one turn over the other?
-Does he have a different head set than usual?
INWARD SIGNS TO LOOK FOR
CHECK FOR SYMMETRY
- Look for differing musculature
- Do his temporal muscles look the same?
Look for differences in size, shape and development.
Location of temporal muscles
-Is there tenderness just below his TMJ?
Palpation of the temporal muscles
- Do the masseter muscles look and feel the same?
Look for differences in size, shape and development.
Palpation of the masseter muscles
– Are the outside edges of the upper molars sharp and tender to the horse when slight pressure is applied to the cheek?
Checking the upper molars for sharp edges sensitivity
-Are there any abnormalities observed?
Visual inspection of the incisors for abnormalities (rising four yr old)
Look for missing teeth, wedge, smile, frown, protuberances of the incisors.
Condition is always a good indicator of tooth function. Aggression around the food source may indicate that a horse is in pain when he eats. I have found times that the fattest horse has had the worst teeth; their aggression toward other horses allows them more time to eat. A noticeable change in a horse’s feed requirement is a strong indicator of pain caused by teeth as well. If they have a history of doing well on 5 pounds grain and a ½ square bale of hay per day for the last three years and this year they are not doing well on the same amount of feed something has changed. Chances are their tooth function isn’t as good as it once was. If they don’t get the food ground up as well, they won’t get the same nutrients out of it.
Horses that stretch their neck or tip their head when eating grain or pellets are either shedding a baby tooth or a side preference chewer. When they have a particular tooth that is painful to chew on, they tilt and stretch using gravity to keep the food away from the point of pain. Horses are afforded what is called a saggital crest (muscle) of the tongue which helps divide the food in their mouth from one side or the other so the aid of gravity helps keep the food in place. Tilting and stretching is simply an effort to avoid a painful side of chewing.
Young horses especially go through huge changes in their teeth. They shed 24 baby teeth and replace them with permanent teeth between 2 ½ – 4 ½ years of age. They also find homes for 12 additional permanent teeth that were not preceded by baby teeth. To add to the mix, they have anywhere from 0-4 wolf teeth that come in between 6-18 months, and males have 4 canines that come in between 4 ½ years. All of which is happening usually when they are in training.
All horses require regular dental maintenance in order to perform at their best. Three point balance provides both comfort and function when done correctly. Many trainers starting horses claim that proper dentistry prior to training will enable the horse to learn twice as much in half the time. When a horse’s teeth are balanced and the horse is out of pain in it’s mouth, the horse is allowed to focus solely on the trainer and his instruction. A great bang for the training buck. Anyone showing or competing is spending a lot on training, schooling, travel and entry fees. You might as well provide your horse the opportunity to perform at his best.
How does dentistry allow a horse to perform at his best? If they are entered in a speed event (timed) hesitations due to pain from unbalanced or sharp teeth, can cost you the crown. If they are entered in a refined event eg: hunter, dressage, reining, western, pleasure, etc. where a particular movement or frame is required; balance and freedom of pain or discomfort should always be a afforded.
Bitting is another area, horsemen should consider relative to tooth problems. Does your horse readily accept the bit? Does he respond appropriately to bit pressure? If your horse really doesn’t want to be bridled, or respond appropriately, it may be an indication of discomfort in his mouth. If his teeth have not been addressed, he may be unable to move his jaw either forward/backward or side to side. A horse can only perform properly when he is able to freely move his jaw forward for him to comfortably stop, backup and collect. His jaw must be able to freely move his jaw forward and to either side for him to comfortably spin, rollback and perform a flying lead change.
When I inquire how a horse rides, generally a horse will ride the best to the side they tend to chew on the most. This causes the muscles on that side to be more developed if you look closely at the muscles on the forehead (temporalis) and the jaw (masseter). If you compare the size (one side to the other) and notice a palpable or visual difference from one side to the other, this is some of the first indications that the horse is experiencing tooth issues, each of which affect his chewing and riding preferences.
Remember, all undesirable actions are compensatory to some point of pain and attributes to a horse’s balance and ability to perform. If you are experiencing undesirable behaviors while riding your horse, have a certified equine dentist take a look, to get the answer â€˜straight from your horse’s mouth.
If you have a question about your horse’s teeth and how they might relate to his health or performance call 1-306-747-2724, 1-403-936-5394, 1-208-420-2701 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.