A horse requires regular dental care to maintain his oral health. A horse's 44 teeth continue to grow throughout his lifetime. The front teeth rip and tear grass with great efficiency, while the back teeth grind the grass and feed so it is digestible. A horse that is unable to adequately grind his food often suffers from malnutrition and even bouts of colic. An abscessed tooth is painful for the horse and can seriously hinder his ability to adequately eat.
A horse requires regular dental checkups. The owners should exam the horse's teeth every six months. An equine dentist needs to maintain the horse's mouth at least once per year and often twice a year if the horse is older. Due to the horse's continuously growing teeth, the horse needs her teeth to be regularly filed, a procedure known as "floating." A veterinarian will file down sharp, irregular or cracked areas of the horse's teeth. This will help prevent abscesses.
Abscesses often occur when the horse does not have regular floating of his teeth. Cracks will develop in the enamel of the tooth and bacteria will invade to the tooth's pulp. Once the bacteria reaches the pulp it quickly spreads to the root where a pus-filled abscess cavity will form. Older horses suffer from abscesses more frequently than younger horses because their teeth crack easier.
A horse with an abscess may exhibit facial swelling. She may toss her head in discomfort. Often the animal's breath will smell foul. She may have a difficult time eating and begin to lose weight. The food may fall out of her mouth in a half-consumed form. The horse may have a nasal discharge from only one nostril. Many horses will begin to exhibit behaviour problems and may not easily accept the bit.
A veterinarian will be able to properly diagnose an abscess. The veterinarian will sedate the horse and surgically remove the infected tooth. A large abscess will require a drainage hole to drain off the infection. The horse will need to take antibiotics to clear up the remaining infection and analgesic to relieve pain. Insertion of a dental wax plug into the socket will keep food out of the cavity. The drainage hole and the cavity will require regular flushing, according to Pool House Veterinary Group and Equine Clinic. A veterinarian will remove the wax plug during the flushing process and then reinsert the plug until completely healed.
Once the infected tooth is removed the long-term prognosis is excellent. The horse will require ongoing dental care to prevent future teeth from becoming infected. The owner should regularly check the horse's mouth and watch for signs that another tooth may be infected. Prompt treatment from a veterinarian will help maintain the horse's health so he can continue eating in comfort.