Many times horse owners think that only old horses have teeth issues and eating problems are the only signs telling them that their horse has a problem. Over several years of looking at horse’s mouth I can only think of a hand full that did not need some type of dental maintenance.
I have seen signs of teeth problems in weanlings shown on the lunge line. The owner could not believe it was pawing at the halter because it had sharp dental points, and when the halter was forced against the colt’s jaw the colt would strike at the halter. Whether your horse is used for trail riding or it’s a world champion performance horse, when teeth problems start there will be a problem with how the horse performs.
The signs to look for will be head shaking when in a halter, bit or even a hackamore. Horses that suddenly stop making turns, shake their head, not wanting to stop, or even backing and running off when you put pressure on the side of their mouth, all are signs that you may have a problem with the horse’s mouth. Horses that stop eating, holding their head funny or sideways, dropping feed, or spitting up balls of grass or hay may often have teeth issues. Bloody bits or salivation, bad odor from the mouth are also indicators that horses may need dental work.
A quick exam is not often good enough to catch a lot of problems that go unnoticed. The horse may need to be sedated, and speculum placed in the horse’s mouth to open the mouth. The veterinarian can feel and look for the sharp points, broken teeth, tongue lacerations, jaw laceration and any other problems that can occur.
Often people say its just the wolf teeth in young horses that cause problems, and more often than not, the horses will need both the wolf teeth extracted, and the sharp dental points floated. I believe any horse that goes to the trainer should have their teeth checked before bad habits start and tempers get out of control.
To protect horse owners, licensed veterinarian or dental technicians under the direct supervision of the veterinarian are the only ones that can legally perform equine dentistry in the state of Missouri; this is the law as of now. Direct supervision means that the vet must be on the premise where the dental technician is doing the work.
Dr. Rusty Waide, DVM, has been the owner of Buffalo Veterinary Clinic for 21 years.