General Information

Dental care is an important part of horse management. Dental problems are best prevented by dental examination once or twice a year. The teeth of horses continually grow throughout the animal’s life. The teeth can be used to estimate a horse’s age; however, certain dental problems, such as malocclusion (upper and lower teeth do not meet), broken teeth and abnormal wear (as from cribbing), can make it difficult to estimate a horse’s age. In order to perform a thorough oral exam, your veterinarian will use a full mouth speculum.

To do a quick examination of horse’s teeth:

Lift the upper lip and observe the gums and upper incisors. This is also where lip tattoos are located and where you can assess your horse’s membrane color.
Pull down the lower lip with one hand and use the other hand to pull the tongue out the corner of the mouth.
Observe the first few molars for hooks and points. These teeth generally reflect the state of the other molars. It is difficult to visualize the rear molars without a speculum.
Dental problems can lead to eating difficulties, such as unwillingness to accept the bit, mouth injuries or sinus infections.

Signs of dental disease include:

Weight loss
Difficulty chewing
Dropping hay or grass while chewing
Head tossing during riding
Poor performance, reluctance to collect or to give to the bit
Nasal discharge
Facial swelling
Excessive amounts of whole pieces of grain in the manure.
Drainage from under the lower jaw.

Floating and Routine Dental Care

A horse’s teeth periodically need to be filed down or “floated” to correct dental abnormalities and remove sharp points. Due to normal wear, points routinly occur on the outside edges of the upper molars and inside edges of the lower molars. The average horse requires floating at once a year or every other year intervals to prevent injury to the checks and tongue. “Hooks” on mismatched teeth may need to be floated and smoothed. Broken and loose teeth may need to be pulled.

Wolf teeth are the rudimentary first upper premolars located near the large upper second premolars. These first appear in late yearlings. Bitting problems are more likely if the wolf teeth are small and loose. Wolf teeth removal is relatively simple and done under light sedation.

Accumulations of yellow-brown tartar or calculus around the base of the canine teeth should be periodically removed to prevent gum disease and tooth loss. Tartar usually accumulates around the canine teeth and occasionally the incisors.

Infection of an upper tooth can spread to the bony compartment between the roof of the mouth and the eye (maxillary sinus), causing sinus infection and pain, and a discharge from one nostril.

Horses with tooth infection may have a unpleasant “rotten” odor about the mouth or emanating from the nostril on the same side as the sinus infection. These teeth can abcess and drain out the upper or lower jaw as well the nose if an upper tooth root abcess ruptures into a sinus cavity. Surgical removal of abcessed teeth is often necessary and may be referred for surgical intervention.

When a tooth is missing, the tooth in the opposite arcade continues to grow (Malocclusion) and may require more frequent floating to prevent mouth injury and to allow normal chewing.

Occasionally a horse retains feed in its mouth between the teeth and cheek. This packed accumulation of feed can be a result of sharp points on the molars and can be an indicator of teeth needing to be floated. We recommend a dental examination every 12 months.

Call Our Office If:

You have any questions concerning your horse’s dental health.
If your horse is showing any of the problems listed above.
You need to schedule a yearly/routine floating appointment.