Dr. Alex Wales has a very strong interest in equine dental surgery and has taken numerous courses to enhance his skills. Also, state of the art instrumentation and x-ray equipment have made it possible for our practice to offer advanced dental care to our client's horses. We also get frequent referrals from other British Columbia veterinarians.
Alex has been an instructor to other veterinarians and/or veterinary students at seminars put on by the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the British Columbia Veterinary Medical Association, the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association, Washington State University and the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.
Horses have around 40 teeth. Their teeth are actually more like rodent teeth than human or dog teeth. Human and dog teeth are covered by enamel and once fully formed do not change except for wear or disease. Horse teeth o n the other hand, have hard enamel grinding parts covered with softer dentin. Horse teeth errupt throughout most of the horses life until it is around 20 years. They do not actually grow, but rather erupt out of the jaw like lipstick coming out of a tube. A molar tooth in a five year old horse may be about 3-4 centimeters long with almost all of it burried in the jaw bone. Each year it pushes out about 3 millimeters of exposed crown, and the root tip moves 3 millimeters closer to the mouth. By the time the horse reaches it's twenties there may in fact be very little root left and eruption stops.
Because of their diet and type of teeth they have, cavities are very rare. They do however get other problems including root abscesses, periodontal disease, mis-shapen teeth, cracked, broken or loose teeth, and dental and oral tumors. Some of these conditions can be prevented through frequent and thorough preventative oral care where we look after undesirable tooth overgrowths and other minor problems. Abscesses, periodontal disease, and individual diseased teeth often create severe oral pain and must be addressed for the sake of the health of the horse and for humane reasons.
A horse eating 20-30 pounds of feed a day must be able to chew that feed into small particles to make it digestible. If the teeth become misshapen from enamel overgrowths, the horse cannot chew efficiently and may begin to chew in an abnormal way, further enabling the abnormal tooth shape to progress further. If allowed to go on unchecked, these misshaped teeth can lead to an abnormal bite and even tooth destruction.
Dental problems are a common cause of PERFORMANCE ISSUES RELATED TO RIDING AND BIT COMFORT. Most horses are ridden with a bit in their mouth. Horses with enamel overgrowths on their teeth often develop soft tissue pain on their tongues, cheeks or lips due to these soft tissues being pushed into the overgrown sharp enamel points. If we are relying on the bit in the mouth to be a major part of our communication with the horse, having dental abnormalities that cause pain during riding are very counterproductive.
One of the more common statements we hear is, "what about wild horses-they don't seem to need dental care, or, my Grandpa never had his farm horses teeth looked after".
Those are good questions. Wild horses and quite likely grandpa's horses live a much more natural existence where they graze either all year or at least a good part of it. Horses teeth are designed to chew large quantities of tough, gritty grass or hay. Chewing this feed requires powerful grinding motion and involves the entire tooth surface to get the job done. Chewing this tough feed wears the teeth down, but that is as good thing because the tooth is erupting every day.
Many of our domesticated horses have limited opportunity to graze natural pastures so are forced to eat soft grass or hay and processed feeds. These feeds take little effort to chew and so the teeth do not wear down normally. Remember, tooth erruption is constant. If wear does not keep up to eruption, then tooth overgrowth occurs. The horses we see in practice that have the most dental issues are the ones who eat soft pasture or hay and often prepared feeds like pellets or crushed grains.