Horse’s teeth do not grow, they erupt at a constant rate throughout the lifespan of their teeth. The teeth which are 4 1/2 to 5 inches long as a young adult, exist below the gum line with only the crown portion exposed. Over the first year, horses develop their 24 “baby teeth” and under which some of the permanent teeth will come into place. From the age of 1-5, all of the horse’s permanent teeth will erupt and those that are replacing the original baby teeth will push those baby teeth out as caps. Throughout their lifetime many changes occur in the dentition of your horse and the tooth surfaces are “supposed” to be worn away evenly with proper chewing as they erupt. By the time a horse is aged, the teeth “expire” leaving only root stubs or simply no tooth at all.
So what changes that process? A whole collection of things:
- Caps may come off unevenly or not completely (a cap or portion of a cap that remains can alter the tooth eruption of surrounding and opposing teeth)
- Bone grow of the jaw is uneven (overjets, underjets, overbite, underbite)
- Genetic defects allow for less than optimal dental development (horses in nature with bad tooth structure did not survive and were not bred)
- Modern feed and feeding methods impair the appropriate “grinding” of tooth surfaces (horses teeth are designed to chew grasses for >20 hours/day with their head down)
- Lateral movement of the jaw is impeded by dental abnormalities and further impairs “grinding ” of tooth surfaces (once you have “hooks” and “ramps” or elongated incisors, you no longer have normal chewing)
- Broken teeth cause discomfort through sharp edges and exposed nerves and disrupt the chewing pattern as the horse tries to avoid that tooth while eating.
- Individual teeth “expire” with aging and opposing teeth may hyper-erupt without an surface to grind against.
A comprehensive equine dental exam is not the same thing as a routine “float”. While very often, sharp “points” are removed during our visit, the purpose of the exam itself is to identify misshapen teeth, structural abnormalities, retained caps or portions of caps, misaligned teeth, oral injuries, or dental infections that can not be seen without actually opening your horse’s mouth…..or somehow getting them to tell you! The points/sharp edges that are addressed during dental care are simply components of the teeth that have not ground (or worn) evenly as the teeth erupted and now press into tender mouth tissues causing lacerations and discomfort. While those “points” seem to get all the attention, they are only a small portion of what is happening during the exam.
The recommendation to have your horse’s teeth examined twice a year is based on the fact that their mouth is continually changing, that they are prey animals and will naturally hide any injury/illness, that we can not see inside their entire mouth without lighting and tools, and because they simply can’t tell us what is wrong! Advance Equine Dentistry is honored to be your partner in protecting the wellness of your horses by providing comprehensive dental care!