Equine Dental Awareness

February is national pet dental awareness month.


Dental disease and problems arising in horses are sometimes mismanaged or even overlooked.  The horses mouth should be checked every year on a routine basis in order to determine the heath and vitality of the mouth.

Common problems that may arise with horses include poor occlusion, tooth decay, hooks, points, ramps, wave or step mouth, loose teeth, peri-odontal disease, and infected roots.  Sometimes it is difficult to determine the extent of each problem without sedation and a mouth speculum and sometimes even radiographs are needed to examine the horse properly.  As early as a few weeks old, we can start checking horses teeth and helping them in ways that might help them have a healthier mouth.

Young horses need their teeth checkedFoals will sometimes be missing teeth, have premature eruptions,  retain deciduous teeth and have improper alignment which allow difficulties eating and prolonged issues with their teeth.  Most horses will shed all their baby teeth by the time they are two or three years old.  A lot of people find the retained caps which fall out later at three and sometimes even four years of age in the food bucket or on the ground.  These caps may cause some gingival bleeding and may be painful for the horse to eat when they become a little loose.  The caps are easily taken out if ready usually with sedation and using a mouth speculum in order to get to the desired tooth.  Retained incisors or immature growth of the adult teeth may be cause for poor dental alignment which could result in an improper bite.  This may set the horse up for a long term problems with the mouth, their ability to chew, and also problematic while riding with a bit in their mouth.  Equine Dental Awarenss - Prevent Dental Disease in Your Horse with Regular CheckupsWe sometimes see traumatic injuries which can cause premature loss of teeth, fractured roots, and sheared teeth which also will play a role in the development of the horses bite overtime.  Up until the age of two some of the signs that you might see at home would be bad breath, head tilt with difficulty chewing food, swelling on the face or the jaw, and sometimes you may see a discharge from the mouth with blood or thick mucous in it.  If it anytime you see any of these symptoms the horse would need to be sedated and fit with a speculum in order to perform a thorough oral exam.  The necessary recommendations and corrections can be made at this time.

Routine floating of the teeth can also start early on sometimes by the time the horse has reached 2 years of age.  I like to sedate all of my horses that I perform dentals on in order to safely fit the speculum in the mouth for the horses safety as well as our own.  We can also perform the dentals more thoroughly and simpler without having to struggle with the horse while using necessary power equipment to float the teeth.  Considerations need to be taken into account before sedating the horse for the dental procedure.  If the horses Health is in within question then presurgical blood work may be performed as well as a thorough physical examination to asses the horses health. Radiographs may also be useful to determine problematic areas of concern.   We would be looking for any signs of anemia, heart dysfunction, poor body condition score, diarrhea, upper respiratory infections, and any other symptoms that may need to resolve before sedation.  Although weight-loss is a common sequela due to poor teeth condition, we want to make sure that the horse doesn’t have any other problems that may cause the weight loss before we perform the procedure.  A horse’s nutrition plays a vital role in the help of tooth growth and necessary vitamins and minerals are essential  for a normal horse to mature with healthy teeth.

Horse's skull with teeth identifiedAs mentioned above we will sedate the horse and fit the horse with the speculum in order to perform the exam.  We will first look at the horses by and make sure that the horse does not have an underbite or an overbite which could significantly affect the horses ability to chew the food.  We will inspect the incisors the location of each incisor size, shape, and symmetry.  We will also make sure that the occlusal surface has a nice flat surface for proper excursion and also ensure the horse will be able to chew equally on both sides.  We will then begin inspecting the premolars and the molars oHorse with speculum in mouthn both the upper and lower aspects of the horses mouth.  The very first premolar is referred to as the wolf tooth and can be present on the upper or lower aspects of the jaw behind the interdental space between the canine teeth and the molars.  The wolf teeth can be present in both males and females.  If wolf teeth are present we recommend removing them usually after the age of four when they have broken through the gumline and had a chance to be stable enough without fracturing the root.  Left alone, the wolf teeth are shallow rooted and can be a nuisance to the surrounding gingiva if aggravated.  This can cause major bit rejection and unwanted objection while riding.  Once the wolf teeth are removed  we will inspect the lateral aspects ( buccal surface ) of the upper molars and determine how bad the points are.  The lower molars will normally grow points on the inside ( lingual ) surface of these teeth.  We will then inspect the posterior edge of the last lower molar and determine if there are any ramps present which could grow higher than the occlusal surface and can be extremely painful as the horse opens their mouth during eating.  Once the floating begins, we will remove the buccal surface of the upper molar points and the lingual surface of the lower molar points, cut down any hooks on the front edge of the uppers and the ramps on the lower to get as flat occlusal surface as possible.  There are several types of bit seats that may be done on the upper edge of the molars which will help fit the bill in the horses mouth and prevent hooks from growing as rapidly as they have in the past.  Likewise if we can cut any ramps down forming on the lowers, we will try to over correct the ramps to create a beveled edge which also will slow down any future ramp growth.

Check your horse's teeth regularlyHealthy Horse MouthOther problems involving the premolars and molars would include wave mouth, step mouth, loose or extracted teeth which also can play a role in digestion and how the horse choose the food.  When floating horses teeth we try to minimize the higher areas on the lowers and the low areas on the upper teeth to try to reestablish a flat surface for mastication.  The older the horse gets the harder their teeth get and the shallower the root.   Some people prefer using hand floats to float the teeth but the older the horse gets a power flow is much more efficient and easier for the dentist as well as the horse, plus it will also minimize the time needed while the horse is under sedation.  Prolonged dentals may require extra sedatives and caution should be taken while the horse is under sedation to maintain good vital signs and allow for a smooth recovery.  Sometimes while performing the procedure, the gumline may bleed, and while cutting longer teeth down, the pulp may be exposed which can also be a source of bleeding during the procedure.  The mouth heals rapidly like ours and may require only a day or two till back to normal.   Routine dentals will make the procedures fairly easy year – after – year if it’s done on a consistent basis best minimizing sedation and time needed.  With proper technique each dental year after year will allow the horse to eat healthier, respond to the bit better, and may minimize the amount of feed or roughage needed to maintain a healthy weight.


After each procedure the mouth should be rinsed well and if any bleeding occurred we will sometimes use dilute mouthwash to flush the horses mouth out for a few days.  I also like to give a small anti-inflammatory dose of flunixin which will help ease the horse the rest of the day as well as provide muscle relaxation which minimizes the risk of colic.  Sometimes the sedatives can slow the gut which may result in a colic soon after the procedure  and can be an emergency if not recognized soon enough.   We should be notified as soon as possible if any symptoms arise after the dental.  We also may make further nutritional recommendations depending on the age of the horse and the use of the horse.  If any extensive damage to the gums or the tooth roots occur, or abscesses treated, then we will put the horse on a few days of antibiotics to help rid the horse of any infection.

I encourage my clients to look at the horse before during and after each procedure so they can appreciate the before and after results from case to case.  I also encourage owners to allow us to perform the dentals at a reasonable time of day To allow for enough time to do the dentals and will usually limit no more than two or three horses per visit to allow for enough stamina to do a proper job.  I also encourage owners to take advantage of the sedation and it’s a good time to clean the sheaths of males and also clean the external reproductive tract of the females.  Also, any grooming, trimming, or clipping that may be done is also a good time after we finish the Procedure.  We look forward to serving your needs and helping your horse feel as good as they possibly can, responding to the bits the best that they can, and most importantly digesting their food for a healthier happier life.