|Posted on February 15, 2012 at 11:00 AM|
Michelle Courtemanche, DVM www.mpequine.com
With my interest and experience in the Miniature Horse industry I am surprised at how few of them I see for dental care. Equine dentistry can be one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of veterinary medicine. These days many veterinarians have special training in dentistry and several have devoted their practice exclusively to the subject. As an associate at McKee-Pownall Equine Services I perform a variety of services on a daily basis but dentistry has always been area of special interest to me. You never know what you are going to find when you look into a horse’s mouth…and it’s a great upper body workout!
All Minis benefit from regular dental care. The adult teeth erupt continuously over their lifetime and are ground down through the action of chewing. Due to the conformation of their jaws they form sharp enamel points on the cheek side of the upper cheek teeth and the tongue side of the lower cheek teeth. Left as is, these sharp points can cut into the cheeks and tongue causing painful sores that bother the horse when it is chewing or wearing a bridle. Sharp enamel points are a normal finding that must be maintained. A painful mouth can lead to weight loss, inefficient use of feed, infections, performance issues and poor health in general. Every horse should have a full dental exam once a year. A proper exam includes sedation and a full mouth speculum. The speculum allows the veterinarian to visualize the entire mouth, feel problem areas and use mirrors or other tools to complete a thorough exam. The sedation ensures that the horse is cooperative, relaxes their jaw for speculum placement and helps alleviate fear and nervousness. The Mini’s small size is not a reason to use physical restraint instead of sedation.
Miniature Horses present a number of challenges to the dental practitioner with their cramped working space and special set of problems. Though often overlooked, Minis usually have a greater need for good oral care than their large counterparts. Efforts by breeders to produce horses with smaller, more refined heads has led to disproportionately large teeth compared to skull size. For this reason Minis are prone to tooth overcrowding which predisposes them to problems with occlusion (teeth that don’t meet properly) and eruption (not enough space for teeth to come in normally). As a direct result of their small head/large teeth, tooth impactions, sinusitis and eruption bumps can occur. Teeth can become impacted (unable to erupt) when there isn’t enough room for them in the mouth. These teeth will occasionally erupt in an abnormal location (for example through the hard palate) requiring extraction. Large tooth roots filling the small sinuses can interfere with normal drainage and lead to a sinus infection. Minis also suffer from eruption bumps on the upper and/or lower jaws. These are generally noted in 2-3 year olds when their pretty head becomes lumpy and unattractive. It is a normal physical change that often resolves on its own but could indicate a problem if it doesn’t go away or is associated with oral pain. Early diagnosis of these problems can prevent serious and permanent damage. Also, in a breed where dwarfism genes are at play we judge our breeding animals on the correctness of their bite. Over/under bites are considered a serious flaw in the breed standard. High ridges on the cheek teeth can restrict front to back motion of the jaw and create an apparently flawed bite. Often by rasping these ridges down, the bite will correct itself. It is important to check the whole mouth frequently in youngsters and prior to making decisions on breeding stock.
Your Miniature Horses deserve a healthy, comfortable mouth. For most, this means a thorough dental exam and float once a year. For horses with problems your vet may have to see them more often. When it comes to equine dentistry it is much easier to prevent a problem than correct one. Whether your Mini is a competition horse or a backyard pet, dental care needs to be part of their annual maintenance. Diligence now can prevent a lot of discomfort, expense and heartache long term.