With the advancement in equine dentistry and medicine, I have seen the life expectancy of the horse increase since I first began practice. It wasn’t that long ago that it was unusual to see horses in their late 20s early 30s, now it is common place.
The importance of proper dental care in horses has been brought to the forefront over the last 10-15 years. A horse needs a level bite plane. It is no different than trimming a horse’s feet every six to eight weeks. The goal is to keep a balanced foot. Keeping a balanced foot keeps the whole skeletal system in better alignment. This will prevent problems as the horse ages.
It is the same with teeth, by keeping a level bite plane the teeth will grind evenly and prevent future problems. It is important to maintain an even bite plane during a horses early years, in order to ensure a level grinding surface into its 20s. If you wait until the horse is in its 20s, the surfaces may be worn excessively and/or unevenly, and since the teeth are no longer erupting at this age, alignment may be impossible.
Because a horse’s lower jaw is narrower than its upper jaw, a horse grinds its feed with a sideways motion; sharp points tend to form along the edges. Points form on the cheek side of the upper teeth and the tongue side of the lower teeth. These points need to be floated to prevent them from cutting the cheeks and tongue. I have discovered it is a very rare horse that does not need these points removed every year. A horse that is missing a tooth, has an uneven bite plane, or any other problem needs to have dental work performed every six months.
The time to start on a horse is when they are young. I have seen horses as young as eight months of age that have needed their teeth floated. I had a group of yearlings and one horse could not maintain her weight even though she was the lead horse in the group. She also had a very sloppy way of eating. Upon examination, I discovered her teeth were like razors. She was floated and subsequently gained weight and did fine.
It is also important to examine all horses prior to putting a bit in their mouths. Many bad habits, such as head tossing and fighting the bit are due to pain from dental problems. It is a myth that horses don’t need dental work until they are in their teens or later years.
When it dips below freezing the required calories that are needed to maintain body condition goes up. When it gets down near zero or below, almost 30% more calories are needed. This can be difficult to get into a horse that doesn’t have a good appetite to begin with, or has dental problems. Talk to your veterinarian if you have any concerns about proper care for your herd.