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Equine Dental Care: Keeping Your Horse’s Teeth Healthy

Dental care for horses differs significantly from that of humans or even cats and dogs. Due to their vegetarian diet and manner of eating, a horse’s teeth work more like a gristmill, constantly grinding and mashing down their food. The horse’s teeth are therefore designed to continually erupt through the gum line as an adaptation to the manner in which they eat.

Horses receive an oral examination as part of their spring and fall wellness examinations. Adult horses typically get their teeth floated annually. In some cases, they may need to have their teeth floated twice a year. Performance horses and some senior horses with missing teeth or poor dentition fit this category. In some cases, they may go beyond a year. Horses that have plenty of access to pasture fit this category.

What You Need to Look for as Possible Indicators of a Dental Problem

As a horse owner or someone who works with horses, it is important to know what kinds of dental trouble signs to look for so that your horse is able to eat and work comfortably. As mentioned previously, your horse should receive an oral examination as part of a general physical examination. It is important for you to be aware that dental problems can happen in between those checkups so you should call for assistance if necessary.

If your horse seems to be reluctant to eat, or show any signs of pain while eating, this may be a sign that his or her teeth have developed sharp points or hooks that are poking the sides of the tongue or the insides of the cheeks. The occlusal (grinding) surfaces that do the crushing of food material are usually be worn down evenly, but some horses do not have even wearing patterns in their molar teeth or incisor teeth, so sharp hooks and points can develop which then need to be filed down (floated).

If your horse seems to drop a lot of food while eating, the molars may not be meeting up properly, allowing food to escape. If your horse chokes or gags on food, this can also be a sign that the teeth are not grinding the food down enough and that there is a problem.

A combination of bad breath and difficulty eating can signal that your horse may be suffering from periodontal disease and/or tooth decay.

Does your horse exhibit behavioral issues or reluctant to accept a bit? Perhaps your horse does not want to bend at the pole or is more sensitive or reluctant to move in one direction over the other. An oral examination would be in order to assess the dentition for any abnormal dental issues.

Are there clumps of chewed hay in the stall or field? Does your horse attack its grain bucket and attempt to eat as fast as they can? These are indicators of pain in the mouth.

During an oral examination we may need to sedate your horse in order to perform a full examination. At the very least, a quiet place is needed to limit distractions and keep the horse calm so we can work. A speculum will be used to keep the horse’s mouth open so that we examine each tooth, the cheeks, the gums, and tongue. We are looking for evidence of inflammation, foul odor, oral ulcers, and abnormal wear in the teeth.

Dental health is a very important component for good overall horse health and wellness. Be sure to have us check your horse’s teeth twice a year, and do not hesitate to call if any problems arise between scheduled appointments.

Please see Dr Yee’s blog comments on Dental floating.

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