Dental care is an important part of horse management
Dental problems are best prevented by dental examination once or twice a year by a Veterinary surgeon with advanced dental proficiency. Whilst many lay practitioners (‘Equine Dentists’) may be able to adequately float a horses teeth, they are usually unable to detect disease or pathology in the mouth even when quite advanced; nor are they able to medicate or prescribe. The teeth of horses continually grow throughout their 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.
Dental problems can lead to eating difficulties, 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, nasal discharge, facial swelling, and many whole pieces of grain or chaff in the manure. Problems are usually well advanced when these symptoms are encountered.In diagnosing oral pathology in the horse first requires a clean flushed mouth, a visual examination of the arcades is performed with a speculum and light. Then we can see irregularities of the arcade, gum disease, displaced teeth, gaps in the dentition, diastemas and periodontal pockets. Feeling carefully around the teeth we may find foreign bodies, sore gums, loose teeth and foul odour representing infection. In some cases we recommend further diagnostic tests to evaluate your horse’s problem, such as Radiographs or fluid collection from the sinus. Loose and diseased teeth that are easily extracted from the mouth have taken several years of infection and pain to occur. Seen early in the course of the disease these can mostly be fixed and the tooth saved. This would have a significant impact on the continuing life of the horse as it would do better, be less narcky, it would not quid (ball up & drop food), it would wear its teeth evenly and be pain free.


A horse’s teeth periodically need to be filed down or floated to remove sharp points on the outside edges of the upper molars and inside edges of the lower molars. The average horse requires floating at least once a year to prevent injury to the cheeks and tongue. “Hooks” on mismatched teeth may need to be cut and smoothed. The arcades should to be level to allow the jaw to move and grind in each axis [up & down, forward & back, side to side].

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 tooth removal is relatively simple and routinely performed at the dental.

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

As the horse grows older the tooth roots curve more pushing the cheek teeth forward. This pressure can force a tooth sideways out of alignment with the others, or may crush the tooth causing it to crack. This may result in the need for extraction, if conservative treatment fails.

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. Infection of a lower tooth can cause swelling and a discharge along the jawbone . Horses with tooth infection may have an unpleasant “rotten” odour about the mouth or emanating from the nostril on the same side as the sinus infection.

When a tooth is missing, the tooth in the opposite arcade continues to grow and may require periodic cutting to prevent mouth injury and to allow normal chewing. Waves, ramps and hooks form from pathology or conformation changes in the opposite arcade. Shear Mouth: The grinding surface of the molars becomes bevelled or angulated rather than flat in the horizontal axis. Causes large excursions of the mouth during chewing. May be difficult to correct.

Occasionally a horse retains feed in its mouth between the teeth and cheek. This packed accumulation of feed can stretch the cheek, forming a pouch. Floating off the points and daily removal of accumulated feed from this area may help resolve the problem. Gum Disorders e.g. Epulis: Exuberant overgrowth of the gums due to irritation or infection.

Grass seeds caught under the tongue, lip or in the soft palate. Twigs in between the arcades. Brambles caught in the throat or windpipe. Ulceration: From sharp points, grass seeds or kidney disease.

From infected teeth or kidney disease.

From liver disease or anaemia.

Cuts to the tongue, gums, chapped /ulcerated commisures of the mouth.