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Right from the horse’s mouth

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Just like people, horses need to visit the dentist. With horses and other animals, veterinarians are those dentists.

Every spring and fall, horses will have their teeth checked and adjustments made; similar to a human dentist or hygienist cleaning your teeth.

A horse has from 36 to 40 teeth. Just like humans, a horse starts out with several baby teeth which can fall out and will also grow several adult teeth (molars) which have no baby teeth.

The biggest difference between horse and human teeth is that horse teeth continue to grow throughout life. This unique feature of a horse’s tooth allows for the horse to chew or grind the coarse feed materials in its diet.

A horse has incisors at the front to grasp and tear grass from the ground, and the food is then passed back into the grinding molars to be pulverized before being swallowed.

The continuous growth of the molars down from the top and up from the bottom allows for this grinding to occur throughout life without horses grinding their teeth down to the gums. In addition, the molars move side to side on an angle. This angle of grinding results in sharp points developing on the outside edge of the upper teeth and inside edge of the lower teeth. It is these sharp pointy edges which need to be adjusted by a veterinarian.

Failure to blunt the sharp points results in pain and ulceration of the inside of the cheeks and the side of the tongue.

To do so, a veterinarian will sedate the horse, open its mouth with a special dental device called a speculum and then perform an exam.

If the sharp points are too long or interfering, then the veterinarian can blunt those points — this is called ‘floating’ the teeth.

This procedure can be done with hand-powered or mechanically-powered equipment.

The veterinarian can also assess the mouth and teeth for various other conditions which can then be identified and dealt with appropriately — such as tooth fractures or abnormal tooth-wear patterns.

Floating your horse’s teeth on a regular basis can be a huge benefit to you and your horse in allowing him to eat properly and accept a bit without pain.

There are some laypeople, farriers and ‘dental technicians’ who will offer teeth floating services, but ‘buyer beware,’ as these persons are not adequately trained to assess teeth problems, nor are they legally allowed to sedate horses.

Chris Bell is an equine veterinarian and surgical specialist who operates Elders Equine Veterinary Service, with clinics in Cartier and Winnipeg. See www.eldersequineclinic.com

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