Tooth Decay in Horses
We all know that sweet foods and sugary drinks can cause tooth decay in humans. It is only in recent years that it has been discovered that horses also suffer from cavities but the causes were not quite so clear.
Two forms of the disease have been found in horses. Cavities can affect the centre of the table of the tooth, on the grinding surface. They may also appear in the sides of the teeth, where they meet the gums.
Swedish Research into Equine Tooth Decay
Scientists launched a study of 500 deceased horses in Sweden to see if they could establish any causes for cavities. They obtained the horses' histories from their owners so they could examine lifestyle factors. Only 6% of the horses had cavities in the sides of their teeth. Interestingly, most of these cavities were found in the last three molars at the back of the horses’ mouths. As saliva protects teeth from decay, it is believed that cavities are more common in the teeth at the back of the mouth because the tube which discharges most of the saliva is further forward.
The scientists also discovered that tooth decay was more prevalent in horses which had been fed a higher proportion of haylage rather than hay. This would cause greater acidity in the mouth. A 2017 study conducted in Australia also found a noticeable correlation between grazing, feed and tooth decay in horses.
Grazing and Tooth Decay
Horses would naturally graze for much of the day. This action produces saliva in order to aid digestion and protect the teeth. When horses are in the stable for long periods of time, they graze less and so produce less saliva and this can lead to changes in the PH level of their mouths. This is probably why it is now known that tooth decay is more prevalent in high-performance horses. These animals are fed larger amounts of fermented foods and tend to have diets that are high in sugar to boost their power and energy.
Detecting Tooth Decay
Unfortunately, tooth decay in horses is rarely obvious. It is often during a dental examination that the dentist finds it. There are few symptoms which are obvious and it isn’t until a horse is presented to an equine dentist that any issues are revealed.
In serious cases of decay, the teeth may fracture. This will result in the horse appearing to be uncomfortable when eating. A horse with a broken tooth may also stop eating and might react badly to wearing a bridle. Split or broken teeth can result in the opposing tooth not being sufficiently ground down. If a horse has a broken tooth, the opposing tooth may require more frequent rasping.
If your horse starts to go off its food or appears more sensitive around the face, it is worth booking a dental check-up as decaying teeth might be causing discomfort. As horses don’t clean their teeth, food can become trapped in the cavities. This then causes accelerated decay in the teeth and infections are also possible.
Tooth decay is a potential health issue which equestrians should be aware of. Increased vigilance could mean that you find any decay early, and adjust the diet accordingly, before it results in broken teeth.