The health, wellbeing and performance of your horse depend upon it having a properly functioning and comfortable set of teeth. Most responsible owners understand the need for regular check ups to ensure that dental problems can be rectified before they begin to affect either welfare or performance.  A dental examination is more than just filing teeth. It is a complete dental and oral evaluation, involving both a manual and visual examination backed by an understanding of the anatomy and diseases of the oral cavity.

 Fig. 1




Teeth continue to grow and change throughout life. Horse owners are able to estimate the age of an horse by the angle of the incisor (front) teeth which begin to slant forward as the horse ages. (Fig. 1)






Fig. 2




The age of the horse can also be estimated by the table or top surface of the incisor teeth. At 2 years old the surface is quite rounded and becomes more elliptical with age. (Fig. 2) See the difference at 5 years old. 





CAUSES OF TOOTH PROBLEMS - WHY do you need to care for teeth? 


  • - Because teeth are designed to wear against the opposing row many dental problems are caused by their continuous growth. The molars (cheek or grinding teeth) are slightly offset with the upper teeth slightly wider than the lower teeth. This causes sharp edges to develop which can damage the tongue and cheeks – particularly in a ridden horse.
  • - Improper digestion of food due to mal-alignment of teeth may cause digestive problems and colic.
  • - Retained deciduous teeth (caps or baby teeth) causing problems with grazing.
  • - Wolf teeth impacting on the bit.
  • - Gum disease at any age, but particularly in older horses.
  • - Loose teeth due to injury.
  • - Assess impact of genetic abnormalities such as parrot mouth (overshot jaw) or sow mouth (undershot jaw) which affect the horse’s ability to graze .
  • - Crib biting causing excessive wear of the incisor teeth.


SIGNS OF DENTAL PROBLEMS - WHEN do you need to do teeth? 




 Nutritional - When teeth problems result in poor digestion :

  • Reluctance to eat, dropping food (quidding), eating slowly.
  • Dull coat, weight loss, excessive salivation or blood in saliva.
  • Bad breath, discharge from nostril, facial swelling.
  • Undigested feed in manure, colic.

   Behavioural  Indications in a ridden horse: 

  • Resistance to the bit in the form of head tossing, lugging in / out. 
  • General ‘bad’ attitude - bucking or rearing whilst ridden. 
  • Head tilting while eating.

 Young horses - Congenital dental problems (those present at birth) may often be treated at an early age, so ideally foals should be given a dental check soon after birth. Dental abnormalities in the growing period can significantly reduce weight gain and have lasting effects during this critical development stage.

  Ridden Horses - Because of the profound affect that badly aligned teeth can have on the willingness of a horse to accept the bit, ridden horses should have their teeth floated every 6 months.

  Brood mares – So that development of the unborn foal is not compromised it is essential that teeth are rasped annually as the mare enters the last trimester of pregnancy. At this stage the nutritional requirements of the unborn foal are increasing, so good digestion is important. However teeth rasping should be done before the mare is likely to be stressed by the procedure.

 Stallions – An efficient digestive system is vital to supply energy, so teeth should be floated before the stallion commences stud duties.



dentistry-1--resizeYour veterinarian will be able to properly examine and treat your horse’s mouth, diagnose any problems and take corrective action. This should preferably be done in a stock to provide adequate restraint. Specialized equipment such as a powerfloat and mouth gags is necessary. Veterinarians are trained in the protocols required to avoid contaminationdentistry-1-resize between horses or horses and people by the deadly Hendra virus – a possibility when floating teeth.  Aside from having the knowledge required to adequately diagnose and treat dental problems, your veterinarian is qualified to use sedation or analgesics (painkillers) whenever necessary to ensure that your horse experiences the best pain-free dental treatment.




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Posted on 2014-12-15

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