Understanding Common Dental Issues in Horses

As responsible horse owners and caretakers, it is crucial to prioritize the dental health of our equine companions. Dental issues can significantly impact a horse’s overall well-being and performance. Understanding the common dental problems that horses may face is essential for timely prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. In this article, we will explore some of the most prevalent dental issues that affect horses and discuss their causes, symptoms, and recommended veterinary interventions. By gaining insights into these conditions, we can ensure the longevity and comfort of our equine friends.

I. Equine Dental Anatomy: A Brief Overview

To comprehend the dental problems faced by horses, it is crucial to familiarize ourselves with their unique dental anatomy. Horses have evolved as herbivores with a set of specialized teeth designed for efficient grazing and digestion. The horse’s mouth consists of incisors, canines (in males), premolars, and molars. They have a hypsodont dentition, meaning their teeth continuously erupt throughout their lifetime to compensate for the grinding action that naturally wears them down.

II. Common Dental Issues in Horses

A. Dental Malocclusions

Dental malocclusions refer to misalignments or abnormalities in the way a horse’s teeth meet when they chew. This condition can cause discomfort, difficulty in chewing, and improper wear on the teeth. Overgrown teeth, retained deciduous teeth, or irregularities in the jaw can lead to malocclusions. Regular dental examinations and corrective treatments such as filing or extraction can help manage dental malocclusions effectively.

B. Sharp Enamel Points

Sharp enamel points are a common issue that arises due to the uneven wear of a horse’s teeth. These points can develop on the outside of the upper teeth and the inside of the lower teeth, causing pain and discomfort while chewing. Regular dental floating, a process of smoothing these sharp points using specialized tools, is necessary to prevent oral ulcers and ensure proper mastication.

C. Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease affects the structures surrounding the teeth, including the gums, ligaments, and jawbones. It is often caused by a buildup of plaque and tartar, leading to inflammation and infection. Common symptoms include bad breath, swollen gums, and difficulty in eating. Regular dental cleanings, along with appropriate oral hygiene measures such as brushing and rinsing, can aid in preventing and managing periodontal disease.

D. Dental Caries

Dental caries, commonly known as cavities, can also affect horses. These cavities occur when bacteria break down the tooth enamel, leading to decay and potential tooth loss. Feeding horses high-sugar diets and a lack of proper dental care can contribute to the development of dental caries. Early detection through dental examinations and adopting a balanced diet can help prevent this issue.

III. Signs and Symptoms of Dental Issues in Horses

Signs and Symptoms of Dental Issues in Horses

Identifying dental problems in horses can be challenging, as they are masters at masking pain. However, vigilant horse owners can spot certain signs that indicate a potential dental issue. These signs may include weight loss, dropping feed while eating, excessive salivation, resisting the bit, head tossing, and foul breath. Regular dental check-ups, ideally every six months, are essential for early detection and prompt intervention.

IV. Veterinary Interventions and Treatment Options

When it comes to managing dental issues in horses, professional veterinary care is crucial. A skilled equine dentist or veterinarian can perform thorough dental examinations, including oral palpation and using specialized tools for evaluation. Treatment options may involve dental floating, extraction, or other corrective procedures based on the specific condition diagnosed. Regular follow-up appointments and proper dental hygiene at home contribute to the long-term dental health of horses.


Proper dental care is an integral part of overall equine health. By understanding the common dental issues that affect horses, we can take proactive measures to prevent, diagnose, and treat these problems effectively. Regular dental check-ups, along with appropriate interventions from qualified veterinary professionals, ensure that our beloved equine companions enjoy optimal dental health, leading to enhanced well-being and performance.

The Importance of Regular Equine Dental Examinations

A horse’s dental health is crucial for its overall well-being and performance. Regular dental examinations and care are essential to maintain the health and comfort of horses. In this article, we will explore the significance of regular equine dental examinations and highlight the key aspects of maintaining optimal dental health for horses.

The Equine Dentition: A Unique Structure

Horses possess a unique dental structure that is specially adapted to their dietary needs. With a set of powerful teeth designed for grinding and chewing fibrous plant material, horses have evolved to efficiently process their forage-based diet. Understanding the anatomy and function of a horse’s teeth is vital for ensuring their dental health.

Common Dental Issues in Horses

Regular dental examinations allow veterinarians to identify and address common dental issues that horses may experience. Some of these issues include:

  • Dental Malocclusions: Malocclusions, or improper alignment of the teeth, can lead to painful points, ulcers, and difficulty in chewing and swallowing food.
  • Sharp Edges and Hooks: Over time, horses’ teeth may develop sharp edges and hooks that can cause discomfort and oral ulcers. These sharp points need to be filed down regularly to prevent complications.
  • Periodontal Disease: Just like humans, horses can develop periodontal disease, which affects the gums and surrounding structures. Regular dental examinations can help detect early signs of periodontal disease and prevent its progression.
  • Tooth Loss and Abscesses: Untreated dental issues can result in tooth loss and the formation of painful abscesses. Regular dental care can help prevent these severe consequences.

The Importance of Regular Dental Examinations

The Importance of Regular Dental Examinations

Regular dental examinations are essential for maintaining the health and well-being of horses. Here are four reasons why regular dental examinations are crucial:

  • Pain Prevention: Dental issues can cause significant pain and discomfort for horses. Regular examinations allow veterinarians to identify and address problems early, preventing unnecessary suffering.
  • Optimal Digestion: Proper chewing and grinding of feed is essential for the horse’s digestion. Dental abnormalities can interfere with this process, leading to poor nutrient absorption and weight loss. Regular dental care ensures horses can efficiently process their food.
  • Improved Performance: Dental issues can affect a horse’s performance, as discomfort and pain can lead to resistance, reduced appetite, and decreased performance. Regular dental examinations help maintain optimal oral health, which in turn contributes to better performance.
  • Early Detection of Dental Problems: Regular examinations enable veterinarians to detect dental issues before they escalate into more severe problems. Early intervention can prevent the need for extensive and costly treatments down the line.

Maintaining Equine Dental Health

In addition to regular dental examinations, several practices contribute to maintaining a horse’s dental health:

  • Balanced Diet: Providing horses with a balanced diet rich in fibrous forage promotes natural tooth wear and reduces the risk of dental problems.
  • Dental Floatation: Dental floating, a procedure where sharp points and hooks are filed down, should be performed regularly by a qualified veterinarian to ensure optimal dental health.
  • Dental Care Routine: Regularly inspecting the horse’s mouth, checking for signs of discomfort or abnormalities, and maintaining good oral hygiene are vital for maintaining dental health.
  • Collaboration with Veterinarians: Working closely with equine veterinarians and scheduling regular dental check-ups are crucial for addressing any emerging dental issues promptly.


Regular equine dental examinations are essential for maintaining a horse’s oral health, well-being, and performance. By identifying and addressing dental issues early on, veterinarians can prevent pain, improve digestion, enhance performance, and ultimately provide a higher quality of life for horses. Collaborating with a qualified veterinarian and implementing a comprehensive dental care routine will ensure the longevity and overall health of these magnificent creatures.

All About Horse Teeth

A guide to equine dental care

A look into the past

Around 18 million years ago the teeth of the ancient horse began to change due to diet change.

horse teeh evolution

The early horse was a browser and lived in the forest. As the environment changed from leaves to grass and from forest to plains, the horses’ teeth evolved.

The surface of their molars became more complex and better suited for chewing tough plants, particularly grasses, which contain silica particles that wear down teeth.

The tooth height began to increase, and the horse eye had to migrate further back on the skull to accommodate the length of the teeth.

Past to present

Past to present

As the horse diet changed, the structure of the skull and eye changed. This movement of the eye from the center of the skull allowed the horse teeth to become long and fit for grazing.


Horses have evolved to graze grass over 14 hours daily!

  • They need to graze this much to wear their continually erupting teeth as they chew. However, since domestication and use the horse often does not attain ideal unlimited grazing.
  • Thus, routine dental care is needed to maintain a constant crown height, and to balance any sharp points that develop on the teeth.

Anatomy of a horse mouth

At 5 years of age a horse has between 36-44 teeth.

All horses have:

  • 12 Premolars
  • 12 Molars
  • 12 Incisors (front teeth)

A Horse MAY have:

  • 4-5 canine teeth
  • 0-4 wolf teeth

Horse teeth have enamel throughout and continuously erupt, unlike human teeth which are coated with enamel and erupt to a predetermined height and stop growing. The anatomy of horse teeth allows them to graze.

Why is dentistry needed?

Horses chew in a lateral circular motion. While horses rarely have problems with tooth decay or gum disease, their continuously erupting teeth present unique problems. If a tooth is lost or worn abnormally, the opposing tooth will continue to erupt from the gum line.

This will cause abnormal chewing patterns and mouth pain. Leading to a decrease in feed efficiency and performance.

Chewing and grinding of feed are essential to your horse’s health and survival. Proper dental care will help your horse eat better, be healthier, and have fewer mouth problems.

Horse skull with extra molar

This horse skull shows the unopposed growth of a molar. (This horse had one extra molar, causing the left side of the mouth to be very sharp.) All chewing took place on the right side of the animals mouth.

Top 7 reasons horses need dental care!

  1. Horse teeth erupt throughout the life of a horse.
  2. The horse’s upper jaw is 30% wider than the lower jaw.
  3. The horse diet is mainly roughage, so horses need teeth of an even height.
  4. Incisors do not wear at the same rate as molars.
  5. Early or late tooth eruption causes an uneven chewing surface, which becomes exaggerated over time.
  6. Tall, sharp canine teeth can pinch or cut the tongue
  7. Horses chew in a circular type pattern.

Inside a horse mouth

Inside horse mouth

Never insert your hands into the back of a horse’s mouth without the
horse being properly restrained. Use proper equipment, such as
a mouth speculum!

The dental exam

The veterinarian will begin by examining the horses mouth for odor, inflammation, ulcers, cuts, tooth decay, and abnormalities of wear.

Sedation is commonly used to make the procedure easier and provide relaxation to keep the horse quiet and still. It should ONLY be administered by a licensed veterinarian.

Then a speculum, which is a type of brace, is used to keep the mouth open during the exam.

The speculum is not painful to the horse, and provides a better view into the mouth for the veterinarian. It also prevents injuries to the veterinarian and horse.

The veterinarian “floats” the teeth to eliminate long and sharp points that can lacerate the tongue and cheeks.

  • Float – Means to level or equalize
  • Veterinarians will use a power float that looks like a drill with a flat headed attachment. This grinds down the sharp points on the teeth to make a smooth level chewing surface.

After floating the veterinarian will check the incisor contact, making sure that they “slide” against one another and their surface angle follows the molar line.

How often should a horse’s teeth be floated?

Until all permanent teeth have erupted in the horse, it is important that it received 2 dental examinations per year.

This is also true for horses 15 years and older, as they are geriatric and can have numerous dental problems associated with age.

Mature horses, usually 5-14, should have a dental examination once a year.

The effects of floating

before and after horse's teeth floating