Equine Dental Health: Straight From the Horse’s Mouth

Horses use their teeth for several functions, including eating, grooming, and defense. Like most other pets, horses need regular check-ups and maintenance for their teeth, which should be done by an equine veterinarian.

Dr. Leslie Easterwood, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, has advice for keeping a horse’s teeth clean and healthy.

Easterwood said the most common dental issue for horses is the development of sharp enamel points that form naturally when horses grind their teeth.

“Horses develop sharp enamel points along the cheek side of their upper cheek teeth and along the tongue side of their lower cheek teeth,” she said. “These sharp enamel points can cause ulcerations down the insides of their cheeks and along the sides of their tongues.”

Easterwood said these ulcers can be very painful, especially when a bit is used for riding. As a result, the horse may be resistant to riding or otherwise not behave normally.

There are many signs horse owners can look for that indicate their horse is having dental issues. According to Easterwood, these include drooling, dropping grain, refusing to eat long-stem roughage, performance issues, and turning the head to the side when eating.

The sharp enamel points can be reduced by an equine veterinarian through a procedure called dental floating, which involves smoothing down the edges with a dental file.

“Horses should have their first dental floating prior to putting the bit in their mouth for the first time,” Easterwood said. “After that, most horses should have their teeth floated once a year.”

She added that the teeth may need to be examined at least twice a year if they are wearing abnormally. A dental check should also be performed anytime the horse is eating strangely or reacting to the bit.

Equine veterinarians may also perform other dental procedures, such as addressing soft tissue problems in the mouth and pulling teeth.

“Loose or broken teeth, along with retained baby teeth, may need to be removed. Older horses can have other developmental issues that also require removing teeth,” Easterwood said.

If your horse is showing any of the signs of dental pain or has not had a dental checkup in a while, make sure to contact your veterinarian. Your horse will be happier with a mouth full of clean, healthy teeth.

Pet Talk is a service of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.