Equine Dental Care

  • Your horse's teeth grow and wear down continuously throughout life.
  • Sharp points, edges, and hooks in your horse's mouth must be trimmed (floated) regularly to ensure proper chewing, maintain a good bit seat, and avoid oral discomfort.
  • Only a licensed veterinarian should administer a sedative or analgesic to your horse, diagnose dental problems, and develop and oversee a treatment plan.

The Basics

Good dental health is a vital component in the longevity and wellbeing of your horse. Your horse's teeth grow and wear down continuously throughout life. Because a horse's upper jaw is wider than the lower jaw, chewing wears a horse's teeth on a slant. This normal wear from chewing results in the outer edges of the top teeth and the inner edges of the lower teeth becoming very sharp which can cut into the soft tissues of the mouth (cheek and tongue). Abnormal wear of the molars can result in hooks, waves and ramps which will negatively impact chewing efficiency and cause oral discomfort. . Sharp points from normal wear and any abnormal wear patterns that develop over time must be leveled (floated) regularly to ensure proper chewing, maintain a good bit seat, and avoid oral discomfort. (Oral discomfort is a major cause of head shaking, bit resistance, and unwanted behavior in horses). Instruments called floats are used to level your horse's teeth.

Equine Dental Examinations and Floating

Many equine veterinarians recommend twice-yearly dental examinations until a horse is 5 years of age due to the many changes that are occurring during this developmental stage of the horse's life. By the time a foal is 6-8 months of age, it will already have a full complement of deciduous (baby) teeth: 12 incisors and 12 premolars. By the time the horse is 5 years of age, all 24 of the deciduous teeth will have been replaced by permanent teeth. During this same time period, 12 molars will have erupted. Between 5 and 15 years of age, yearly dental examinations are usually sufficient to monitor alignment and wear patterns of the permanent teeth. After 15 years of age, twice-yearly dental examinations are recommended due to increased fragility of horse's teeth and increased incidence of dental problems as they age.

Depending on your horse's temperament, your veterinarian may need to use a mild sedative to perform a dental examination on your horse. A device called a speculum may be used to hold your horse's mouth open to facilitate a thorough exam. Your veterinarian will check your horse's teeth for sharp points, hooks, ramps or waves and level or “float” them with a file. Additionally, your veterinarian will examine the integrity of the dental anatomy and health of the soft tissue (gingiva). Your veterinarian may recommend radiography (x-rays), sinuscopy (endoscopic examination of the sinus) or ultrasonography to help diagnose a potential dental problem and help formulate a proper treatment plan.

Equine Dental Care Providers

The laws governing equine veterinary care and dentistry are complex and vary by state. It is in your horse's and your best interest to know the rules regarding who can provide equine dental care in your area. The use of nonveterinarian “equine dentists” is common but may involve medical and legal risks. Only a licensed veterinarian should administer a sedative or analgesic to your horse, diagnose dental problems, and develop and oversee a treatment plan. Veterinarians who don't provide comprehensive equine dental care should be able to refer you to a veterinary colleague who provides this service.

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