Dentistry in the senior Horse

What is a senior (commonly known as geriatric) horse?  In most instances we are talking about horses older than 20 years of age.  The oldest known horse lived to 62 years of age.  The barge horses working the locks in England in the 1800’s routinely worked well past 40.  We commonly see ponies especially that are older than 40 years of age.


30 Year old Arab Mare

Unfortunately a lot of our much loved senior horses have severe dental disease.  In most cases most of their dental problems could have been prevented with good dentistry at an earlier stage.


30 Year old Arab Mare


The older horse often has other age-related conditions such as heart murmurs, kidney or liver problems or Cushing’s disease concurrent with the dental disease.  In the ideal world, these horses should have a thorough and complete work-up prior to sedation and dentistry.  This could include blood tests or ultrasound examination.


In all cases, treatment must be conservative.  These horses have almost no reserve crown and any reduction in tooth height will be as good as permanent.  It is easy to take them permanently out of occlusion.  The aim is simply to make the horse comfortable for the remainder of their life.

Any teeth impacting on soft tissues must be reduced, all obviously loose teeth removed and any sharp enamel points attended to.  Periodontal disease is very common and may need to be treated by extraction and antibiotic therapy.  Hopefully it is not too advanced and can be managed with some appropriate home treatment regimes.


Geriatric Pony with Periodontal Disease


Wave mouth is very common and should NOT be corrected – just remove sharp projections.  If this is treated aggressively as in the younger horse, the horse may never be able to eat properly again.


Geriatric Ulcers


These horses may need to be put onto a senior horse diet and have access to tepid water in winter.  Remember that the worn out teeth have most likely run out of enamel and the remaining tooth material will be quite sensitive.  Check-ups should be scheduled every 6 months but treatment may only be required every 2 years or so.


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