Common Dental Problems

Irregular Wear

In some horses, the surfaces of the teeth may wear abnormally.  This is probably one of the most common reasons for which a horse should be evaluated regularly by a veterinarian.  The degree of wear can be influenced by a number of factors such as the conformation of the horse’s mouth, its age, the type of diet and feeding regimen (more versus less pasture; more versus less concentrate), previous mouth infections, and the amount of dental care the horse has received in the past.   

Uneven tooth surfaces may interfere with the ability to chew/grind feed properly particularly when they prevent the upper and lower teeth aligning correctly. In addition, sharp points or edges that develop on teeth can cause the adjacent gums and/or tongue tissue to develop painful ulcerations.  

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease is disease involving the tissues that surround the teeth and help to anchor them within the jaw bone.  This disease can result in loss of teeth.   

If the changes are mild, there may be few to no clinical signs associated although some horses will show increased salivation.  If the condition worsens, the gums become red, swollen and inflamed, and ulceration may develop.   The mouth typically becomes increasingly painful.  Tissues around the base of the tooth loosen and feed material becomes trapped and impacted around the tooth.  This usually results in the horse developing malodorous breath.  Eventually the tooth will loosen and fall out. With loss of a tooth, the one in the opposite jaw, which would oppose it during the chewing process, will become overgrown and cause more issues within the mouth.  You may observe the horse dropping wads of partially chewed material from its mouth while it eats.  

Loss of teeth and poor oral condition often lead to loss of body condition since it becomes increasingly difficult for the horse to adequately chew hay.  "Complete" equine diets are available which can be fed to horses with significant tooth loss.  These diets are formulated to replace the nutrients normally obtained from forages, and in doing so can help to extend the life and increase the comfort of the geriatric horse with periodontal disease.

Once significant periodontal disease is present, your veterinarian will have to remove any loose teeth, address the inflammation, and work towards bringing the teeth back into as normal an alignment as possible.  This may require several visits.  Your veterinarian may also prescribe an antibiotic for your horse to combat any infection.  Preventing periodontal disease through regular dental examinations is a much better approach.

Dental Decay, Dental Caries

As in other species, decay or caries can occur in the horse and progress to the development of an abscess involving the tooth.  Extraction of the affected tooth will then be necessary.