The importance of dental care for young horses
The importance of dental care and oral examination in the horse is to be able to know what sort of problems may occur over time and being able to prevent it, especially in the younger horse as it’s in the developing stage of its life. The other main aim of dental care is to provide the horse with efficient, functional and comfortable mastication which is essential throughout its life.
Initial Dental Care
Initial dental care of the foal must be made within the first three months of life. It should also be examined during weaning period for any mastication problems that may occur and to keep tract for a proper eruption cycle (Baker and Easley, 2002). If the shedding of their temporary, also known as deciduous, (Baker and Easley, 2002) teeth is not in sync this may cause abnormal mastication and uneven wear in teeth. A proper eruption cycle in sync is important as it will enable early prevention and suitable treatment for any defects or deformities. All young horses should have frequent examinations annually because they are constantly developing (Baker and Easley, 2002).
The horse’s teeth erupt at a rate of 4mm per year until they reach ten years of age. They must be checked every six months for sharp enamel points, abnormal wear and for proper number and position of teeth approximately up to the age of eighteen months (Baker and Easley, 2002).
Dental Problems in the Young Horse
Young horses are usually backed and asked to go on the bit between the age of eighteen months and three years of age which is when the mouth is still developing (Baker and Easley, 2002). During the first three years of its life, the young horse will shed all of its 24 deciduous teeth and eruption of 36 to 44 permanent teeth start (Baker and Easley, 2002).
Canine teeth erupt in male horses during 4.5 or 5 years of age and some which have not erupted through the gums may cause painful eruption cysts causing troubles in comfort and training (Baker and Easley, 2002).
Wolf teeth should also be identified if they have not erupted as they also may cause bitting problems (Baker and Easley, 2002).
By the age of five the horse should have a full set of permanent teeth (Baker and Easley, 2002). Changes in the surface of the teeth, known as the occlusal contact, will start to show and will change through the horses life (Baker and Easley, 2002).
At this stage it is important to have annual evaluations of the teeth to check the balance through the mouth. The cheek teeth should be checked for any sharp points, hooks, ramps and for even wear (Baker and Easley, 2002).
During the first four week period of time the embryo is in rapid development which is a very complex and delicate process (Easley, 2008). There can be many factors which can affect development of the foal such as genetic heritage or teratogens (Easley, 2008). Teratogens are harmful agents which cause deformities in unborn offspring by triggering cell death (Easley, 2008). If a high number of cells have been harmed, the embryo may not survive although if the cell death rate is low the embryo is able repair itself but causes ill formation as a result (Easley, 2008).
Some birth defects can now be picked up by advanced equine ultrasound.
Parrot Mouth (Brachygnathia)
This is a common deform seen in the foal. It is the shortening of the mandible in comparison to the maxilla with the lower and upper incisors not in full occlusal contact (Easley, 2008). It has been considered that the condition could be hereditary and has shown more tendencies to appear in the Thoroughbred (Baker and Easley, 2002). The parrot mouthed horses or foals are able to graze and feed except for the cases when the lower incisors start to lacerate the upper gums, known as the palatine mucosa, which may cause mastication problems (Baker and Easley, 2002).
If detected early, parrot mouth is able to be corrected via occlusal wiring of the upper teeth (Baker and Easley, 2002). This technique allows rostral growth of the maxilla while allowing the mandible to catch up on normal growth (Baker and Easley, 2002).
The orthodontic management of the parrot mouthed horse should include frequent examinations from the dentist and reducing abnormal wear in teeth, preventing excess ridging on the cheek teeth and to reduce sharp enamel points (Baker and Easley, 2002).
Dental and oral diseases and deforms can effect a life of a young horse severely which appear and get diagnosed in the first year of its life. It is important that the young horse has a detailed examination by an Equine Dental Technician as to prevent and health problems and to also keep a condition under control. This will enable the young horse to have a comfortable and healthy life.
List of References
1. Equine Dentistry, Gordon J Baker and Jack Easley, W.B. Saunders, 2002.
2. A review of Equine Dentistry: The First Year of Life, Jack Easley, American Association of Equine Practitioners-Focus Meeting, 2008.