Senior Horse Dental Health

When your older horse’s pearly whites are past their prime, keep an eye out for signs of specific problems.
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Senior Horse Dental Health
Older horses are prone to a variety of dental problems, such as sharp points from uneven wear; loose, lost, or broken teeth; and various infections. | Photo: iStock

When your older horse’s pearly whites are past their prime, keep an eye out for signs of specific problems and schedule frequent dental exams.

Decades ago horses didn’t live past their teeth, and we thought of equids in their teens and early 20s as old. “Now, with improvements in health care and diet, we can feed these older horses beyond when their teeth wear out,” says Melinda Freckleton, DVM, of Haymarket Veterinary Service, in Virginia. “But we have to be more proactive in taking care of their dental needs.”

Equine teeth continually erupt from the jaw to compensate for normal wear. As time passes, the amount of reserve crown (the portion of the tooth within the jawbone that has not yet erupted) decreases; eventually, the senior horse simply runs out of tooth. Teeth also change shape and angle as they move outward, potentially promoting uneven wear.  

Some senior horses show clear signs of dental problems, such as an inability to eat properly, but other signs are less obvious. “I have to remind people that a fat, shiny old horse still needs his teeth checked,” says Freckleton. There might be problems developing—such as gum infections, fractured teeth, or sharp points—that owners can have their veterinarians address before the damage is too great

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Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband near Salmon, Idaho, raising cattle and a few horses. She has a B.A. in English and history from University of Puget Sound (1966). She has raised and trained horses for 50 years, and has been writing freelance articles and books nearly that long, publishing 20 books and more than 9,000 articles for horse and livestock publications. Some of her books include Understanding Equine Hoof Care, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Care and Management of Horses, Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses and Storey’s Guide to Training Horses. Besides having her own blog, www.heathersmiththomas.blogspot.com, she writes a biweekly blog at https://insidestorey.blogspot.com that comes out on Tuesdays.

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