Kathryn Woolley
Qualified Equine Dental Technician

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The traditional treatment of simply removing a few sharp edges from the horse's teeth is no longer appropriate these days with the advances made within the field of equine dentistry. Effective dentistry involves ensuring the mouth is correctly balanced and the horse is free from pain thereby allowing the horse to obtain maximum nutritional value from its food. Furthermore ensuring that the horse is comfortable when being ridden and able to perform to the best of its ability, regardless of discipline, ranging from competition to companion.

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Evolution and Domestication

The hyracotherium also known as the dawn horse, is the precursor of the modern day horse the Equus caballus. The dawn horse existed 55 million years ago in North America and had short crowned brachydont teeth. These are similar in structure to human teeth, whereby two sets are present throughout life, a deciduous and a permanent set and they erupt fully before maturity. These brachydont teeth are hard enough to withstand normal wear forces and therefore survive the life of the individual.

Equus caballus

Hyracotherium

Major climatic changes 20 million years ago resulted in habitats becoming covered with coarse grasslands. Consequently the diet changed and the dawn horse's descendants encountered major morphological evolution of the skull and dentition. This dental morphology adapted for grazing enabled the horse to survive on a diet of coarse grasses, containing abrasive silicate. This silicate is harder than enamel and when for long periods of time this coarse grassland diet is consumed the teeth are placed under great demands. This compensatory evolutionary change included a longer cheek teeth row, deeper mandible and jaw to accommodate the long crowned hypsodont teeth with enamel infoldings on the occlusal surfaces of the cheek teeth, which creates a more durable surface required for abrasive grasses. Also powerful facial muscles for mastication allowing for the prolonged and forceful closure and the side to side movement of the jaw.

Enamel Foldings

Hypsodont teeth and the modern day horse

Similarly to brachydont teeth, hypsodont teeth have a deciduous and a permanent set. However hypsodont teeth slowly erupt over the individuals lifetime as they have a reserve crown embedded into the mandible and maxillary bones. Eruption rate is around 2-3 mm / year and is similar to the rate of attrition of the occlusal surface of the tooth, however only providing that the horse is fed a fibrous diet.

Reserve Crown

Today dental care is essential to the horse's health, especially as eating patterns have been altered considerably through domestication. Horses are now mostly used for leisure and sporting purposes and therefore are fed according to their requirements for maximum performance. Today the majority of the horse's nutritional requirements are fed as 'concentrated' feed divided into 2 or 3 meals a day and forage in a haynet. This soft diet combined with a farmed pasture is far less abrasive than the grassland plains that the horse's dentition was adapted for, thus shortening the mastication cycle as the concentrate food does not require the same degree of mastication. Therefore the natural wear patterns of the horses teeth are affected. Consequently the teeth do not wear down sufficiently in relation to eruption rate. Subsequently leading to a variety of dental abnormalities and malocclusions, which if not routinely checked and treated can lead to numerous problems including weight loss and decreased performance.

Soft Feed
Coarse Grasses

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