EQUINE DENTAL ISSUES

A few of the most commonly occuring equine dental issues are detailed below.

SHARP EDGES

Sharp edges known as enamel cusps will naturally develop over time as the horses teeth erupt. These sharp cusps will often cause soreness, lacerations and ulcers to the sides of the cheeks and to the tongue. Often horses with sores from these sharp cusps will find it painful to chew and they will give up and spit out a half chewed ball of hay. This is called quidding and is unfortunately a common occurrence.

These enamel cusps can commonly cause sores where nosebands either from the bridle or ill-fitted head collars pushing against the side of the face thus leading to ridden problems.

With regular annual or biannual dental appointments these cusps will be managed so the horse is kept comfortable for both ridden work and effective mastication.


Photo credit: Stuart Philpott

HOOKS AND RAMPS

Hooks and ramps develop due to a misalignment of the molar arcades. This is commonly the result of an over-bite or under-bite (parrot mouth or sow mouth) of the incisor arcades. Sometimes hooks and ramps can become a secondary problem to an extracted or missing molar where the remaining teeth start to come together thus shortening the row of molars.

Where a molar has no contact with an opposing tooth there will be no attrition to keep the tooth worn down correctly to compensate the natural rate of eruption. Commonly effected teeth are the first and last molars in each of the arcades, the difference between a hook and ramp is distinguished by its gradual slope. Overtime these areas of the tooth can become dominant and cause the horse multiple issues both eating and ridden.


Overgrowths restrict anterior/posterior and lateral movement of the mandible causing the horse eating difficulty usually seen as quidding or a loss of appetite particularly for long fibre food. Hooks and ramps effecting the first molar can cause sores to the inside of the cheeks due to ridden pressures of the bit and noseband.


Hooks and ramps can easily be managed as part of a horses regular routine dental checks so should there be a misalignment even in the most extreme cases a qualified EDT can competently reduce these safely and restore and maintain effective mastication.


Photo Credit: Gemma Lawrie and Gemma Lily

DECIDUOUS (MILK TEETH) PROBLEMS

Between 2.5 years and 4.5 years the transition from deciduous (milk teeth) to permanent teeth occurs and concerns 24 deciduous teeth (12 incisors and 12 pre-molars).

Often young horses have problems shedding the deciduous teeth which can be a painful experience causing quidding, sudden loss of appetite, ulcers and lacerations.

Deciduous teeth, otherwise known as caps, can fracture during the process of shedding allowing food to become trapped and creating a sharp points. A qualified EDT will have no problem spotting these issues and dealing with them accordingly.

As the deciduous teeth are shedding at the surface the roots of the underlying permanent tooth are starting to form and can take up to 2 years once the reserve crown has finished developing. During this time it is common and often more noticeable in certain breeds to see hard bumps on the mandible. These bumps are sometimes referred to as teething bumps and often appear symmetrically on both sides of the mandible, overtime these will gradually disappear as the mandible remoulds.

Between the ages of 2.5 years and 5 years it is important to have the horse examined every 6 months by a qualified EDT.





Photo Credit: Gemma Lily and Martin Walls

WOLF TEETH

Wolf teeth are vestigial teeth and come in many different shapes and sizes. Usually they are short crowned with a root two to three times the length of the crown.

These small conical teeth are present from 6 months old and not all horses have them. Wolf teeth are commonly positioned just in front of the first upper cheek tooth on the maxilla (upper jaw) and occasionally on the mandible (lower jaw). Its due to this positioning that these teeth can interfere with the bit when ridden and cause problems.

Wolf teeth in young horses (under 3yrs old) are usually easier to extract completely than wolf teeth in older horses. As the horse gets older the roots of the tooth ossify in the alveolar socket welding itself to the jaw bone.

Blind wolf teeth (unerupted wolf teeth) are usually problematic and are nearly always extracted. However not all wolf teeth require extraction as it usually depends on several factors including type of ridden work, age and positioning of tooth.

Normally positioned wolf teeth may be extracted by a Cat 2 (BEVA/BVDA) qualified EDT and displaced or blind wolf teeth may only be extracted by a Vet.









Photo credits: Stuart Philpott and Chris Napthine

EXCESSIVE TRANSVERSE RIDGES

Excessive Transverse Ridges (ETR) are a series of ridges that form across the occlusal surface of the molars that have become either exaggerated or irregular.

ETR can restrict anterior/posterior and lateral movements of the mandible effecting the biomechanics of the horses mastication. Although ridging across the teeth is a natural adaption to help break down tough fibrous food when it becomes too exaggerated the lateral movements of the jaw are reduced and can cause stress to the TMJ (Temporal Mandibular Joint) and other masticatory muscles.

ETR is often more commonly seen in horses on a low hay/high concentrate diet as less lateral movements are required in the break down of hard feeds.

DIASTEMA

A diastema is a gap between two teeth, effecting both the cheek teeth and the incisors.

These areas are often problematic as food can easily become stuck and remain in situ for some time. Trapped food will begin to rot, creating an environment for decay, gingival recession, formation of periodontal pockets and erosion of the periodontal ligament.

Understandably this can be extremely painful for the horse and quidding is commonly observed. Other observations may include facial swellings and foul smelling breath.

Regular balancing of a horses mouth during routine dental care can help prevent gaps from forming however they can be a natural occurrence in older horses. The shape of the quine tooth tapers towards the root end so as the tooth is at its later stages in life the surface area is reduced and thus gaps start to emerge between the teeth.

In some cases the gaps are big enough that the food can flow in and out but in others it is important that they are monitored, managed and treated correctly.


Treatment may include widening the gap, bridging the gap or simply flushing and balancing the teeth. 

CARIES

All equine teeth can become diseased due to trauma, abnormal wear, diet and age.

Caries can affect both the outer and inner parts of the tooth which are termed ‘Peripheral’ and ‘Infundibular’ retrospectively. Both types of caries are are graded on their severity which takes into account depth of cavity and dental tissue involvement.

Caries can be tricky to identify and grade correctly which is why a good headlight is fundamental during a dental examination. Mirrors and probes are then used to further investigate any problematic areas.

Caries affecting the inner aspect of the tooth known as infundibular caries can be treated by filling if caught early enough. Filling halts the degenerative nature of the disease and can save the tooth from fracturing in years to come. Peripheral caries can be more difficult to treat but is associated with high sugar diets, often a simply dietary adjustment can make all the difference.


Photo Credit: Gemma Lily

INCISOR MALOCLLUSIONS

The horse has 12 incisors situated at the front of the mouth used for prehending grass. As youngsters they have a full set of 12 deciduous incisors which are replaced with permanent incisors over a 2 year period starting at 2.5 years of age. 

Incisor malocclusions can occur due to a whole variety of reasons including; conformation, diet, poor dental care, trauma and age. They can malocclude in many different ways preventing important lateral movements of the mandible and in some instances cause difficulties feeding from the mare as a foal.

With regular dental care these issues can be carefully managed to allow the horse to be comfortable and masticate food efficiently even in the most extreme cases.

Photo Credit: Gemma Lily and Gemma English

STEPS

A step occurs when the clinical crown of one cheek tooth is longer than all other cheek teeth. These usually occur due to a missing or damaged cheek tooth on the opposing arcade. Left untreated these will continue to erupt into the opposing soft tissue causing sores and severe oral discomfort seen in form of quidding and subsequent weight loss.

Once a step has been identified it requires numerous more regular (6 monthly) visits by the EDT to reduce them gradually. It is important that these are reduced carefully in stages due to the sensitive and living nature dental tissues which make up the equine tooth.


Photo Credit: Gemma Lily

Photo showing sharp edges
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Photo showing hooks and ramps
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Photo showing deciduous teeth problems
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Examples of wolf teeth 
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ETR can have an effect on the ridden horse too; as the horse drops its head to take a contact, the mandible slightly drops forward. ETR can prevent this natural sliding forward of the mandible and cause tension in the TMJ and potentially transfer to other areas of the body. 

Routine dental checks and dietary alterations will manage ETR and keep the horse comfortable. 


Example of diastema stick trauma 
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Example of infindibular caries 
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Example of underbite 
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Example of ventral curve
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Example of a step in the mouth
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