After my horse, Annapolis, suffered from an episode of choke, the attending vet pointed out that the lower molars had some sharp points that may be making it difficult for him to chew properly.
This illustrates just one reason why scheduling regular dental checkups is an important part of all-round equine health care.
Signs Your Horse's Teeth Need Attention
Horses' teeth continually grow throughout their lives. That's where the phrase "long in the tooth" comes from. As they graze and chew their food, the grinding surface of their teeth gets worn down over time. But, for a variety of reasons, this wear may not be even, resulting in uneven grinding surfaces that don't meet up in the proper way, or even sharp points or hooks which might cause discomfort when the horse chews. Most horse owners don't make a habit of sticking their hands up inside their horse's mouth to feel for sharp points and other signs of uneven wear. So how does one know that a horse is in need of dental care?
- If he seems reluctant to eat, sharp points on his molars may be poking the sensitive roof of his mouth, or inside his cheek.
- If he drops a lot of food as he's eating, his molars may be unevenly worn and the surfaces may not meet up properly anymore to allow him to chew his food. He may end up dropping more than he eats. This is known as "Quidding"
- If he becomes difficult to bit, or begins to chew excessively on the bit, or toss his head, it may be a sign of pain in the mouth.
- Bad breath may indicate tooth decay or gum disease.
As a rule of thumb, horses should have annual checkups from an equine dentist. Senior horses should have more regular checkups, preferably twice per year. That was where I went wrong with Annapolis -- having been lulled into a false sense of security by a good checkup, I delayed scheduling the next one.
If you happen to notice any of the signs noted above, you should schedule an appointment immediately.
What is involved in floating teeth?
In order to examine and work on your horse's teeth, the veterinarian will first sedate the horse and then place a speculum between the teeth. This is held in place with straps like a headstall and allows the vet to ratchet open the horse's mouth.
If necessary, he will use long handled molar cutters to remove large hooks. Watching the vet do this is not for the faint-of-heart, it can take quite a bit of effort and if you're at all squeamish about the dentist, this will give you nightmares!
Once the vet has removed any hooks, he will use a file to smooth out any rough edges. This is known as "floating the teeth." I was surprised when my vet's assistant unloaded an air-compressor from the back of the truck prior to the start of the examination. I'd never seen a "power-float" before.
Whether the vet uses hand tools or power tools, the aim is the same--to return the horse's teeth to their proper alignment, or "occlusion" and removing any sharp points which make it difficult or painful to chew food properly.
I'm happy to report that since having his teeth floated, Annapolis is doing well, with no repeats of the choking episodes. I certainly won't procrastinate when it's time for his next appointment.