by Dr Shannon Lee BVSc
Proper regular dental care is important for all horses regardless of age size or use, just like it is in humans. The benefits provided by proper dental care include being able to maximise the FCR or Feed conversion ratio. In simple terms, this means the horse is getting the maximum benefit from the feed it is eating. This is achieved through maintaining a normal chewing cycle via the removal of pain, preventing and correcting abnormalities that lead to spilling of feed, and ensuring that the horse can grind its feed to an appropriate fibre length. This is essential if the food is to be properly absorbed in the intestine; large fibres are not properly absorbed and significant numbers of fibres in your horse's faeces with length greater then 25mm indicates a problem with that horses grinding ability.
The second benefit of proper dental care is being able to keep your horse free of dental pain. Those of us who have had an ulcer in the mouth, a cavity or broken tooth, know how painful it is.
The third benefit is in the ridden or driven horse: by removing painful or restrictive conditions in the mouth we allow the horse free motion and collection. Remember to adjust tack as a horse ages; a bit that suited a horse when it was a three-year-old is unlikely to suit it as a ten-year-old.
The fourth benefit of dentistry is welfare. One of the greatest advantages modern man has over our predecessors is access to modern dental care and, combined with dietary changes and advances in medical care, is largely responsible for our much increased life expectancy. The same applies in the horse.
Another frequently overlooked benefit of proper dental care applies to the brood mare. Dental disease is one of the major causes of EED or early embryonic death in both horses and humans. Remember not to neglect your brood mares, particularly those that have difficulty getting in foal or keeping a pregnancy beyond 45 days.
Miniature horses suffer from the same dental conditions as other horses and can enjoy the same benefits from proper care but, as well as this, miniatures have a specific group of problems that occur more frequently in this group.
Miniatures have smaller bone structure but their teeth are essentially similar in size to a larger horse, this leads to problems with overcrowding and impaction of teeth. When teeth become impacted there are treatment options but the problem needs to be diagnosed early. With a six-year-old horse having all of its adult teeth and with teeth erupting in a horse's mouth regularly from birth until this time horses need regular checks to identify problems early and have a good chance of recovery. For horses in this age bracket a good rule of thumb is to have dental checks every 6 months - remember the window to fix these problems is very short.
Miniatures are also prone to being Prognathic, commonly called "sow" or "monkey-mouthed" which means that their dental arcades don't line up and their bottom jaw comes out further than their top jaw. Remember that a horses jaw slides back and forth when the head is up and down, just like yours. Try it now, face forward with your teeth in their normal position, then lower your chin - you will feel your bottom jaw slide forward. This rostro-caudal or front to back movement is normal. This is relevant because when checking a horse's bite it must be done with the horses head in a resting position, not held up in the air. Otherwise the lower jaw will slide back and the result will be incorrect.
Sow mouthed horses should not be used for breeding as there is a genetic component to this trait and remember to check both the stallion and the mare.