How to Care for Aging Equids’ Teeth

Learn what dental problems veterinarians manage in senior horses and how owners can help monitor them.

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How to Care for Aging Equids
Older equine patients inevitably have some degree of dental disease. | Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse
At first glance, your senior horse or geriatric donkey might not look particularly long in the tooth, but dental problems are all but inevitable for aging equids. Fortunately, veterinarians have ways to help keep our golden oldies’ pearly whites (or off-whites, as the case may be) functional for as long as possible.

At the 2014 British Equine Veterinary Association Congress, held Sept. 10-13 in Birmingham, U.K., Nicole du Toit, BVSc, MSc, Cert. EP, PhD, Dipl. EVDC (Equine), AVDC (Equine), of Tulbagh Equine Dentistry, in South Africa, reviewed what problems veterinarians should look out for and how to best manage those issues.

Common Problems

“Older equine patients inevitably have some degree of dental disease,” du Toit said. “This may be due to the natural aging process or due to the compounding of dental disease, which developed earlier in life.”

One factor that contributes to dental problems in older horses is the teeth themselves. Horses have hypsodont (long) teeth that slowly wear away during their lives. They have about four inches of tooth crown below the surface of the gums hidden in the jaw bones. As the grinding of their coarse meals wears away a little bit of tooth surface, more erupts into the mouth to take its place. And, as the horse ages, the crown that has erupted out of the jaw over his entire life begins to run out, leaving the horse with narrower, unstable teeth

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Written by:

Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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