Monday, May 02, 2011

Dental care key to horse health

Maybe it's the constant issues taking the bit, or a troubling nasal discharge that never goes away.

Something wrong inside a horse's mouth can contribute to a variety of health issues, said Dr. Molly Rice of Lodi/Madison Equine Clinic during the clinic's recent spring customer appreciation night.

Beginning routine equine dental care early can head off many potential problems and correct issues before there's something seriously wrong. Horses lose a lot of baby teeth, and new, permanent ones erupt during the first four or five years of life. A good routine for young horses is a dental check every six months until they're about 10 years old, Rice said.

"Horses shed a lot of teeth in the first 41/2 years," Rice said. "Sometimes they'll retain a cap or an incisor and it'll need to be extracted so the permanent teeth underneath can grow in correctly."

Timing is important when extracting teeth in a young horse, she said. Too early and the emerging teeth may not develop properly, while extracting a cap too late can cause an imbalance in the mouth.

Young horses have 24 deciduous, or milk teeth, 12 incisors and 12 premolars. Mature male horses have 40 to 44 permanent teeth, and mares have 36 to 44. Canine, or "bridle" teeth, erupt in the interdental space at 4 to 5 years of age in male horses, and may appear 20 to 25 percent of the time in mares.

A proper dental exam should be done with a good light and a mirror for seeing details, Rice said.

"Without the light and a mirror for looking closely at the teeth you really can't see well enough to know what's going on. It's pretty easy to miss a fracture or small abscess without the light and mirror," she said.

"Floating," or the process of removing sharp and uneven areas on the teeth, is the most useful tool in the routine equine dentistry tool kit. Because a horse's upper jaw is wider than its lower jaw, the teeth are offset. Equine teeth erupt about three to four millimeters per year, so as this happens, sharp edges develop that need to be filed off.

"The teeth develop rostral hook, or sharp points that floating will take off. The hooks can cause little cuts on the upper cheek. Floating can also correct imbalances on the chewing surface in a young horse if you catch it early," Rice said.

Floating also is used to round off the teeth near the interdental space where the bit goes in the mouth.

Routine dental exams and regular floating contribute to the general health of the animal. Problems in the mouth can contribute to nutritional issues, behavior problems, infections of the sinus, and the all around soundness of the animal.

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