Horses are herbivores, meaning their teeth are designed to chew on tough grasses. The chewing and grinding process naturally wears down teeth, so horses’ teeth were designed to grow continuously until they are about 25 - 30 years old. However, the domestication of horses has shifted their diet away from grazing and towards eating scheduled meals of grain and hay. Due to this change in lifestyle, horses are less likely to wear their teeth down adequately and, even if the teeth do wear, it is very uncommon for them to be worn down evenly.
Horses’ lower row of cheek teeth are closer together than the upper row of cheek teeth. While this trait is beneficial in the wild, it often causes problems in the domestic horse. When the horse chews in the normal sideways motion, it creates points on the edges of the teeth. These are called hooks, and these hooks can become sharp and even cause ulcerations in the mouth. Luckily, teeth can be made even again through a dental process called floating. This process uses a dental rasp to file off sharp edges and make the teeth level again. Although the required frequency of floating teeth is dependent on the individual horse’s lifestyle, most horses over the age of 5 will benefit from annual dental care.
One of the first signs that your horse is having discomfort in its mouth is if it is being picky about eating, not wanting to eat or dropping a lot of feed (called quidding). A horse experiencing dental problems may also start to lose body condition or develop behavioral problems. It is common to see trainers and riders complaining about a bit not working or their horse being too sensitive in the mouth. Sometimes it’s just a point that has developed on the horse’s tooth that is hitting the bit and causing it to become sensitive and painful.
A complete oral health plan will help maximize your horse’s performance and optimize their comfort and well-being. Central Coast Vet Services is your trusted equine dentist in San Luis Obispo County - Make an appointment today for a consult.