Dentistry is an important part of the overall health and well-being of the horse. Just as routine dental hygiene helps people prevent tooth decay and periodontal disease, routine dental re-equilibration (floating) performed by a knowledgeable and experienced practitioner can alleviate pain and prevent many dental disorders.
Tooth root infection in the horse is a relatively common disorder occurring primarily in the cheek teeth. Causes of tooth root infections are numerous including fractures, developmental disorders, blood borne pathogens, etc. Developmental disorders in young horses include too numerous cheek teeth, which creates overcrowding and can lead to incomplete eruption or impaction of cheek teeth. Also, too few cheek teeth can leave gaps between teeth and increase the chance of peridontal disease. Periodontal disease begins at the gum level surrounding the tooth.
Perhaps the most common cause of apical infections (infections of the tooth root area and surrounding tissue) is the spread of bacteria in the blood. The horse has a tremendous blood supply to erupting teeth (eruption bumps) and may explain why veterinarians have seen more of these infections in young horses that have rapidly developing tooth roots.
Symptoms of dental disorders include loss of appetite, dropping excessive amounts of feed when chewing, swelling along the jaw, malodorous discharge from the nose or jaw, and a sudden resistance to accepting a bit. These symptoms may be obvious or subtle. With these suspicious clinical signs, a thorough oral exam with mouth speculum is warranted to determine if there is a dental problem. You may also want to have your veterinarian show you how to safely examine your horse's mouth. Regularly monitoring your horse's teeth and gums will give you a baseline normal and enable you to notice any changes or abnormalities if they occur.
It is recommended that adult horses have their teeth "floated" once per year and that horses younger than 5 years of age have teeth "floated" twice per year. In younger horses, it is important to evaluate the development of permanent teeth as well as the shedding of immature teeth (caps). Geriatric horses have their own special needs and should be evaluated annually or more often if colic, choke or other medical concerns arise. Understanding your horse's oral health needs and maintaining the appropriate exam and floating schedule will keep you and your horse smiling.