As horses age, the rate of eruption of their teeth slows down and the teeth change shape becoming narrower towards the root of the tooth. The angle of the teeth also changes slightly with advancing years. These factors can lead to formation of diastemata (gaps) between the teeth and food can become impacted into these gaps. With severe food pocketing, periodontal disease can develop and may progress to cause changes in the bone around the tooth and in the worst cases, infection of the jawbone or the sinuses. The most common clinical sign seen with diastemata is quidding (dropping food during eating). If left untreated some cases can progress to infection of the tooth roots, which may become apparent as abnormal chewing behaviour, halitosis (smelly breath) or nasal discharge due to sinus infection amongst other things.
Missing teeth also become more common as horses age. Once a tooth is lost the opposing tooth no longer has anything to grind against and can overgrow. This excessively long tooth can then start to put abnormal pressures on other teeth which can lead to gaps between teeth or periodontal disease.
Reduction of overgrown teeth must be performed very carefully to avoid exposing the pulp cavity which would be painful and also provides a route for infection to track into the tooth. Going slowly and regularly checking the surface of the tooth during reductions is essential to avoid complications.
Prevention is better than cure with these sorts of problems so older horses should have their teeth checked every 6 months. Contact us to book an appointment or to discuss any concerns you may have about your horse’s teeth or general health.