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The Cape Fear Equestrian
Dentistry For Your Horse


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By Marcy Saugues, DVM
June 2002

Keeping your horses teeth healthy is a very important part of good health care.  When was the last time you had your veterinarian check your horse's mouth and teeth?  Horses are individuals and the frequency that they need to be checked will vary, but most need a yearly examination.  Poor dental care can lead to a number of problems such as weight loss, colic and choke.
Foals start to grow their baby teeth during the first week and should have all teeth in by the time they are about eight weeks old.  They will shed these baby teeth(called "caps") and grow in adult teeth starting when they are two and a half years old and should have a full set of adult teeth by the time they are five years old.
Many owners don't get their horse's teeth examined until five years of age.  Acutally, it is very important to have a young horse's teeth checked at least yearly from birth to be sure they are not developing problems that can be corrected.   Some young horses have trouble losing one or more of their caps and need them removed.  Many horses have very tiny teeth called wolf teeth that sit in front of the first cheek teeth and these should be removed for better bit action when the horse is started under saddle.
Once the horse is five years old, all the permanent teeth are in place.  The incisors(the front teeth you see when you pull up your horse's lip) and the cheek teeth (also called molars) grow all the time until they run out of tooth, generally when the horse is in his twenties or thirties.  Horses generally grow out an eight of an inch of tooth per year and most of the tooth that grows out is ground off while chewing.  The upper jaw is wider than the lower jaw, so the outsides of the top cheek teeth and the insides of the bottom cheek teeth don't get as much opportunity to be worn down and may develop sharp edges.  These sharp edges need to be removed in a procedure commonly known as "floating" the teeth.
As your horse ages, the teeth may wear out at different times.  This can cause uneven rows of teeth that can limit the horse's ability to chew hay and grain.  Long hooks can form on the first and last top and bottom cheek teeth.  If these are allowed to grow, they can get so long they peirce the gums and grind on jaw bone.  The incisors also need to be examined and floated as needed. 
Dental equipment available to your veterinarian has immensely improved over the last several years, so doing a thorough examination and providing complete dental care has been made easier and better with motorized equipment.  In the state of North Carolina, dentistry must be done either by a veterinarian or by a "lay" dentist with a veterinarian in attendance.
Many horses never show any symptoms of dental problems until the problem is fairly well advanced.  So if it has been more than a year since you last had your horse's teeth examined, call your veterinarian today to set up an appointment.

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