You’ve heard the expression, long in the tooth? That refers to the fact that horse’s teeth continue to grow, or rather, erupt out of their jaws as they age. Horses have about four inches of tooth crown below
the surface of their gums, called the body or reserve crown. Just as well, as a horse averages 40,000 chews per day and the circular chewing motion grinds away their teeth. Typically, the new crown replaces the worn teeth at a rate of 0.11-0.16″ (3-4mm) per year, which is enough tooth to last about 25 years.
Horses typically grind their food, chewing in a circular motion with y sharp the lower jaw sliding along the upper teeth. To chew effectively, the surfaces of the teeth must have enamel-to-enamel contact. As a horse moves his jaw through a roughly triangular chewing pattern, he might not use the entire occlusal surface during the grinding stroke. This causes the outside edges of the upper teeth and the insides edges of the lower teeth to become sharp. The hard enamel in those areas is not being worn away as fast as the rest of the surface, leaving “hooks” or sharp points. That’s where equine dentistry comes in.
Older horses are particularly prone to problems with their teeth, as they may have excessive wear (especially cribbers), gum disease or loose teeth. Freedom is 22 and a cribber; Curly is 26 and has a tendence to choke. For them, dental care is a must because abnormal wear patterns limit chewing efficiency
It’s hard enough for humans to stay relaxed and keep their mouths open at the dentist. Horses have better drugs (if you are using a vet to care for their teeth) and a speculum to keep their mouths open. For years I’ve used equine dentists who are not vets (they typically use manual rasps or floats) and do not sedate. Given the special needs of our older friends, we decided to have our vet do it this year — power tools all the way! Note: the term floating for rasping a horse’s teeth, is a term borrowed from masonry where floating describes the leveling of a row of bricks.