Restoring & Maintaining Your Horses Oral Health
Horses' teeth go through a lot of wear and tear during their lifetime. Not only do they continuously erupt, but the circular grinding required to masticate fibrous forages results in the development of sharp enamel "points” along the edge of the molars. These points can cause soft tissue irritation and impact eating and performance.
Annual dental exams are an important part of your horse's preventive maintenance. These evaluations involve a comprehensive examination of their mouth and the smoothing of teeth, commonly known as floating, if needed. We prefer the term "dental equilibration" and use motorized instruments to visually reduce any protuberant teeth or excessive points to optimize the horse's comfort and mastication. The use of sedation and full mouth speculum ensures safety and comfort while we perform a thorough dental evaluation.
Teeth Floating for Horses
Floating is a procedure in which sharp enamel points and imbalances are reduced. Without regular dental maintenance, your horse’s teeth can develop large points that lead to cheek ulceration and discomfort. If unattended, this can cause behavioral and performance issues.
Equine Dental Care & Exams
Adult horses should be seen by a veterinarian at least once a year. Horses that are growing, over the age of 20, or prone to dental issues may need to be seen more frequently.
VetweRx Equine can assess, diagnose, and treat dental health problems in horses both at our two state-of-the-art facilities or on your farm.
If you notice any of the following symptoms in your horse, it's time for a 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 you or your stable manager questions to gauge what they may expect to find in the 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 the procedure can be stressful on your horse and we want to eliminate as much stress as possible. It also allows for a more thorough examination of their 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 their dentist will have to perform a float. This procedure involves the use of power or hand tools to grind the teeth in certain spots to either adjust the alignment of the mouth or to smooth out sharp or protruding points in the teeth.
You can help your horse by providing at least half of their diet as good quality long fiber. 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 equine 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:
- How often do horses need their teeth floated?
The answer to this question will differ depending on your horse's age. Here is what we recommend:
- Foals: Check teeth periodically for congenital abnormalities
- Yearlings: At their first complete dental exam
- 2-5 Years Old: Every six months
- 6-17 Years Old: At least once per year
- 17-20 Years Old: Annually
- 20+ Years Old: Annual exams, floating might not be possible
- Why do horses need yearly dental exams?
Making 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.
When a horse is young, its teeth are still soft and still gaining calcium so they can become sharp quickly. Dental care is extremely vital to preparing a young horse to begin its 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.
In addition, the development of wolf teeth and other dental anomalies can cause a young horse great discomfort resulting in fighting the bit and making training more difficult. Any pressure on the horse's cheeks is capable of rubbing on these teeth which tend to be pointed.
- 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 less of an appetite. They can also pack food in their cheeks, start to lose weight or fight the bit during training.
Read more about symptoms under Equine Dental Care & Exams.
- What long-term problems can poor oral health potentially cause in my pet?
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. If you own a foal, examine the foal's teeth as soon as possible, checking for baby teeth called caps which are pushed out by the growing permanent teeth by the time the horse is about two years old.
If caps are creating pain and soreness, you may have your veterinarian remove the caps. The same goes for wolf teeth, which are extra teeth that may grow crooked or in the wrong spot.
With an adult horse, open the mouth and check for uneven wear on teeth resulting in points or sharp edges that will keep the horse from properly chewing feed.
Also, note any teeth 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.
- 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