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Horse teeth

From: Martine Sherril

Jessica,

Hi, I haven't asked a question in awhile, but I've enjoyed reading everyone elses' Q&As. This is actually 3 questions that I have never seen addressed and I'm wondering just how much research has been done on horse's teeth. I've heard that horses don't get cavities, but that if you feed your horse sugar cubes and candy, then they will get cavities just like humans. The logic of this has me puzzled. Most horses eat sweetfeed type grains with molasses and corn which can be very damaging to human teeth. Would this not produce cavities in horses also, if they were prone to cavities? I like to feed her peppermints, but I would stop if I'm really causing a tooth hazard.

I've observed that my 15 year old mare's teeth are very white in comparison with horses half her age at my stable. I've attributed this to her daily grazing on fresh grass, while the other horses rarely get to nibble any fresh grass. Is my horse just genetically superior as far as tooth health, or is this an added benefit to grazing on fresh grass? (Most folks comment on her clean teeth, and jokingly ask if she flosses,too)

I also noticed her jaw is slightly out of alignment and her teeth are wearing down more on one side than the other. Could this be caused by uneven molar wear? And could proper floating correct it? She's been checked twice in the past year, and both the vet and equine dentist said she didn't need any floating done - but I didn't know about the uneven bite and didn't point it out. Is it worth pursuing?

Thanks a bunch - and keep smiling!!

Martine can you tell my Dad was a dentist?


Hi Martine! Some horses DO suffer from cavities and subsequent bacterial invasion of their teeth -- especially in the second and third upper cheek teeth. This can cause a sinus infection, since these teeth lead into the facial sinus cavities, and bacteria that get as far as the tooth root can move into the sinus cavities. Some horses also get infections in lower teeth, and such infections, left untreated, can cause permanent damage to the lower jawbone. Regular veterinary attention -- twice a year when your horse gets routine vaccinations -- is a good defense against such problems.

Horses don't get cavities as readily as humans do. Their saliva generally provides protection against dental caries -- but sometimes the protective factors are lacking, or there is another problem such as a loose tooth that opens the way to bacterial invasion of the bone. Sweet feed, sugar treats, and other such "goodies" haven't been shown to produce cavities in horses. Horse teeth grow out steadily and wear down with use, and are smoothed by a veterinarian's or dentist's file when they develop sharp edges, points, and hooks.

You are right to be concerned about an uneven bite -- this, over time, will accentuate uneven tooth wear. But although it would be a significant problem for a horse in the wild, because the uneven bite would get steadily more pronounced until the horse had difficulty eating, it doesn't need to be a problem for a domestic horse. Your mare obviously has the best of care, including twice-yearly inspections by a vet and an equine dentist! When you have your mare's teeth floated regularly, this compensates -- as much as posisble -- for the malocclusion. It doesn't sound as though you need to do anything more -- you are looking after your mare's teeth very well.

Of course, you already know to watch for signs of any trouble with teeth: a horse that fusses with its bit, or becomes uncharacteristically sloppy with its grain, may need a visit from the veterinarian. A horse with bad breath definitely needs immediate attention from the veterinarian -- this could mean a tooth infection, a sinus infection, or something else unpleasant. And gums that are deep red instead of medium pink (normal colour) could indicate a problem with the teeth or bone in that area -- another reason to call the vet.

Tooth color (and discoloration) tends to reflect diet more than anything else. Horses that eat pelleted feeds sometimes accumulate a dark coating on their front teeth, but it's nothing to worry about. Cropping grass in pasture does seem to have a good effect on the colour and cleanliness of those front teeth, but I can't tell you whether it's some factor IN the grass or just the scraping and pulling action that scrub the teeth as the horse grazes.. but I've noticed the same thing in my own horses. ;-)

Most horses love peppermints, and unless your veterinarian asks you NOT to feed sugar to your horse for some specific reason, I don't think you need to worry.

Jessica

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