Teeth are one of those things we take for granted. However, we shouldn’t extend our human fear of dentists to horses. Horses rely on their teeth more than we do, and indeed, more than other herbivores, to grind their feedstuffs into small particles for digestion.
How many times have you chosen a bit, bought a supplement, blamed the feed or been depressed about your riding when your horse refuses to accept the bit – and never had his teeth checked?
Common indications that your horse may be unhappy in his mouth are bit chewing, head tossing, stiffness and even bucking, plus signs of quidding and reluctance to eat at mealtimes.
The horse’s jaw is a huge hinge that hangs from a pivot just behind the ears. So, if anything affects your horse’s teeth, it affects this hinge and, in turn, his whole performance.
Some vets suggest that back problems and hind leg lameness can be attributed to long-term teeth problems. This is understandable – if a horse is making allowances for discomfort at the front end, its back will also be out of balance.
Besides this, how many horses are there which, despite being fed and wormed correctly, still don’t put on weight? If the horse can’t process his food properly, how can he digest it? Food that is not chewed properly may also predispose a horse to colic.
Sharp edges or hooks on molars can cause lacerations of the cheeks and tongue. Sometimes, these cheek teeth can extend as much as a half tooth’s width over the lower teeth, wearing them where they contact each other, with the unworn areas being exposed as a sharp point.
Horse’s teeth should be checked every six months. There are now more trained horse dentists around, and several equine veterinary practices employ teeth specialists.
Be aware that your horse is more likely to develop hooks and edges on his teeth if he has any breeding that may impose a wide jaw on to a narrow-jawed breed. This can cause an in-built tooth overlap. Part-breds, such as Arab bloodlines in native breeds, are a good example of this.
Many horses are not exposed to a natural grazing position, when eating fromraised mangers and hayracks. This produces a difference in the rotation of the jaw during chewing, which can lead to the development of hooks and sharp edges.