The cheek teeth of the horse “grow” (erupt) at about 3mm per year and are worn at about the same rate. Because of the slope of the teeth the upper cheek teeth become sharp along the cheek side and the lower cheek teeth become sharp along the tongue side. These sharp edges must be reduced every 6-18 months depending upon the individual horse. Your veterinary surgeon will determine what your horse’s ideal treatment interval will be.
Some horses have “wolf teeth” – small teeth in front on the cheek teeth, which may cause discomfort when the bit contacts them. After sedation and local anaesthetic injections the teeth are extracted. During teething, parts of the deciduous tooth may persist causing discomfort and dropping of food. Some deciduous incisors may persist as well, preventing the secondary tooth erupting in the right place. These are easily removed by your veterinary surgeon.
Oral cancer is rare in horses, but any unusual tissue and facial swelling must be investigated. Swelling of the jaws may be associated with eruption of secondary cheek teeth or food being forced into a space between two cheek teeth. These swellings are easily distinguished from cancer by your veterinary surgeon. When in doubt X-Ray photos should be obtained and the suspicious tissue sampled and sent to the laboratory for examination and treated appropriately.
If a horse’s teeth are not maintained regularly, they can become unevenly overgrown leading to ramps and steps. These overgrowths interfere with normal grinding of food and need to be systematically shortened at 3-monthly intervals until they resume their normal height and function. Excessive removal of tooth substance may expose the living pulp and must be guarded against. Exposed pulp causes pain and tooth death!
When incisors, canines and cheek teeth are fractured beyond treatment, they need to be extracted. Most extractions can be performed in the sedated standing horse under local anaesthesia. The teeth are gently loosened until they can be moved using fingers only, and then extracted. After extraction, the teeth in the opposite jaw may need to be shortened every 6-9 months to prevent them from over growing and interfering with normal chewing.
Some horses are ridden with a bitless bridle while others have a bridle and bit. Remember, there is no anatomical space in the mouth for the bit. When the mouth is closed, it is filled by the tongue. Any bit that is placed in the mouth is going to displace the tongue. Bits range in shape, size, configuration and material. Bits are widely divided into curb or non-curb – where the curbed bit applies a lever action and the non-curbed has no lever action. Combinations are also possible.