The trouble with teeth

  • For many years, teeth have been taken for granted, but owners and vets alike are now paying them more attention.

    Most nutritionists, when asked about putting weight on a horse, will suggest that the owner check their horse?s worming programme and ensure that the teeth are examined annually before giving feed advice.

    Recent American research has shown that horses whose teeth had been untreated for a year, and therefore had minor hooks and sharp edges, did not experience a drop in feed digestibility. Nor did horses which had had cosmetic work on their teeth – so-called bitseating work, whereby the teeth are rasped down to prevent the bit from irritating the horse.

    The research means that the likely primary effect of poor routine tooth care is physical, since the horse’s jaw is a huge hinge that hangs from a pivot just behind the ears. It follows that anything uncomfortable in the horse’s mouth affects the way it holds its head, consequently, the performance of this hinge and, therefore, its whole performance.

    Common indications that the horse may be unhappy in his mouth include bit-chewing, head tossing, stiffness and even bucking. Some vets suggest that back problems and hind leg lameness can be attributable to long-term teeth problems. This is understandable: if a horse allows for discomfort at the front end, its back end will also be out of balance.

    There are now trained practitioners, termed equine dental technicians, who have passed the first official exams in the UK, backed by the British Equine Veterinary Association. There is also a range of other “horse dentists” around – some better and more experienced than others.

    To find a good dental technician in your area, visit the British Association of Equine Dental Technicians website at www.baedt.co.uk, consult your vet or rely on word of mouth among local horse owners to find out who’s good near you.

    Top tips on dental care

  • Although research says that teeth do not have a big effect on feed digestibility, you must stillget them checked annually.
  • An annual visit from a “dentist” or vet sorts out minor uncomfortable edges, but also spots potential long-term problems. If your horse is quidding (dropping food while eating), then it has been left too long.
  • Several veterinary practices now employ equine teeth specialists.
  • Crossbreeding that mates a wide-jawed with a narrow-jawed breed can cause an inbuilt tooth overlap, such as Arabs crossed with native breeds.
  • Breeding that results in an over or undershot jaw causes misaligned teeth.
  • Eating from hayracks produces a difference in the rotation of the jaw during chewing, which can lead to hooks and sharp edges developing.

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