Dental Health for Horses
Our horse friends can suffer from many dental disorders which can affect their ability to eat and perform.
Annual equine dental visits from our veterinarians at Sound Equine Veterinary Hospital include a thorough oral health examination and tooth floating (if necessary). This helps to ensure optimal dental health for your horse.
Our veterinarians can assess and treat your horse's dental needs with comfort and safety by using sedation and full-mouth speculums during oral exams.
Equine Dental Care & Exams
Horse dental care is built around its diet and eating habits. Horses typically require a dental checkup every six to twelve months to ensure their teeth remain healthy, and their food is evenly ground for proper swallowing and digestion.
Sound Equine Veterinary Hospital can assess, diagnose, and treat dental health problems in horses both at our state-of-the-art facility and at your farm.
If you notice any of the following symptoms in your horse, it's time for an urgent dental appointment.
- Dropping feed from the mouth while chewing
- Awkward chewing motions while eating
- Trouble placing a bit in the horse’s mouth
- Difficulty riding when the horse has a bit in
- Weight loss
- Nasal discharge
- Poorly digested food in manure
- Food packing within cheeks
Typically, an equine dental appointment will start with the veterinarian gathering a history of your horse. They will ask the owner or stable manager questions to gauge what they may expect to find in a horse’s mouth. Typically, the veterinarian will ask if certain symptoms of dental problems have been present in the horse’s behavior.
Your horse will be sedated because it allows for a more thorough examination of the mouth.
The first thing that the veterinarian does, once they've opened your horse's mouth with a full-mouth speculum, will be to perform a comprehensive exam of the mouth, including the gums, mucosa, teeth, and tongue.
Once your veterinarian has had a chance to examine your horse's mouth, they will discuss treatment options for any extensive issues.
In most cases, a horse's teeth can become worn in a way that leads to sharp edges, so we can file them down with a procedure called 'floating'. This uses power or hand tools to reshape or reduce the teeth in certain spots to either adjust the alignment of the mouth or to smooth out sharp or protruding points in the teeth.
Most horses should have yearly dental exams to prevent pain and premature aging of the mouth. If you have an older horse, they may require special attention with their diet, especially if they are missing teeth and struggle to chew long fiber. Fiber replacements offer a good solution in such cases but speak to your veterinarian about any concerns you may have.
FAQs About Equine Dental Care
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions from our clients about horse dental care.
- Why do horses need yearly dental exams?
Making horse dental care a priority can save not only your horse's life, but can save time and money and give you and your horse the quality of life and companionship you both deserve
Dental care is important for young horses to set them up for a lifetime of successful chewing and to prepare them for successful training.
Throughout the horse's life, teeth will naturally wear down both normally and abnormally. The result can be either pain or premature wear of the teeth. The discomfort that can result from even regular wear patterns makes annual dental exams important for the horse.
- How can I tell if my horse has oral health issues?
Behavior can be a huge indication of oral health problems. If your horse is experiencing dental problems, they can have bad breath, drop food, or have loss of appetite. They can also pack food in their cheeks, start to lose weight, or fight the bit during training.
Read more about symptoms to the left under Equine Dental Care & Exams.
- What long-term problems can poor oral health potentially cause in my horse?
Serious dental conditions can develop, such as infections of the teeth and gums, extremely long hooks or overgrowths on the cheek teeth, and lost or fractured teeth. These conditions may require advanced dental care and/or extraction by a qualified veterinarian.
Your equine veterinarian can recommend the best treatment or refer your horse to a dental specialist if needed.
- How can I keep an eye on my horse's dental health?
Regularly handle your horse's head and mouth to make sure they are comfortable having their mouth examined. Watch for incisors that are beginning to protrude excessively or cause misalignment or malocclusion.
Note any changes in eating habits, loss of weight, bad breath, dropping half-eaten food, holding the head at a strange angle, bolting, or head tossing when being bridled or ridden. Any of these conditions may be caused by dental problems.
From as early as 2 years old, schedule sedated full oral and dental exams as advised by your veterinarian. If there are any concerns earlier in life such as a misalignment, this may need to be done sooner.
- Does my foal need dental care?
A foal’s mouth should be checked within hours after birth for an overbite or underbite that will affect the ability to nurse. An exam of the mare and foal performed before 24 hours of age will include looking for severe congenital defects such as cleft palates and wry nose.
The first pair of incisors (on top and bottom) erupt by one week of age. If this is delayed, it may be a sign of prematurity. The second pair erupts by 2 months and the third pair by 6 to 8 months of age.
These deciduous baby teeth are replaced by permanent adult incisors at 2 ½, 3 ½, and 4 ½, years of age. The baby teeth should fall out by 3, 4, and 5 years old, respectively. Sometimes these are retained and should be seen by a vet.
- What are some common dental health problems in horses?
Some commonly seen dental issues for horses include:
- Abnormal wear with sharp enamel edges on both the lower and upper cheek teeth. If pronounced this can cause painful ulcers and erosions of the soft tissues of the cheek or tongue
- Overgrowth is either secondary to a misaligned jaw (parrot mouth) or as a result of a missing tooth
- Fractured, displaced, loose, or missing cheek teeth
- Diastema (gaps between the teeth where food collects) that causes gum disease
- Caries: tooth decay
- Tooth root abscess
- Retained deciduous (baby) teeth
- Blind (unerupted) or abnormally large or displaced wolf teeth
- Abnormalities of the incisors
Advanced Dental Referrals For Horses
Sound Equine Veterinary Hospital is proud to offer monthly in-clinic referral services with Dr. Lindsay Helvey for advanced dental procedures, as recommended by your veterinarian.