Equine Dentistry

Floating is a common equine dentistry procedure, and most horse owners are familiar with its importance. But this is just one of many dental procedures that might be available from your veterinarian or equine dentist. Many other equine dental problems can develop and go undetected until severe pain becomes obvious.

The adult male horse has up to 44 permanent teeth, and a mare might have between 36 to 40 permanent teeth. Like people, horses get two sets of teeth in their lifetime. Equine baby teeth are temporary and by age five, most will have their full set of permanenthorse teeth.

The forward teeth, known as incisors, function to shear off forage. The cheek teeth, including the molars and premolars with their wide, flat, grooved surfaces, easily grind the feed before it is swallowed.

During grazing, the lips are drawn back to allow the incisors (front central teeth) to sever the grass at the base. Once the food enters the mouth, the horse begins chewing the food by grinding it. This occurs by moving the jaw in a side-to-side movement, not up-and-down. Molars do the hard work here. After several minutes of chewing, the food softens and is suitable for swallowing.

The horse is a continuous grazer, that is, both confined horses in a stall and free-ranging animals usually eat 10-12 hours daily for 30-180 minute intervals if quality horse hay or pasture is available.

But full confinement affects eating behavior. Confined horses fed concentrate or pelleted feed eat faster. Without access to pasture, horses don’t use their incisor teeth for shearing which could lead to overgrowth.

Changing a horse’s routine can inadvertently change the natural functions in your horse’s mouth. Dental problems can worsen without your knowledge. If your horse is beginning to resist the bit or failing to respond to common training techniques, it may be time to call in the equine dentist. A sensible dental hygiene program can get your horse’s choppers back in shape. There are a number of equine dentistry procedures to help.

Floating: Cheek teeth tend to develop sharp points even under normal grazing conditions. The horse’s lower jaw is narrower than the upper jaw and this, combined with the grinding motion of chewing, causes sharp points to form along the edges. Points form on the cheek side of the horse’s upper jaw and the tongue side of the lower jaw.
Floating is the “rasping,” or filing of points on the teeth to prevent them from cutting the cheek or tongue. Floating might also involve leveling the molars to allow free chewing motion.

Other dental problems that can be corrected by your veterinarian or horse dentist during routine equine dentistry procedures:

Retained Caps: All 24 baby teeth should be replaced by age five. Sometimes these teeth are not shed and result in a “retained cap,” which can cause inadequate chewing, loss of appetite and poor performance. These teeth may need to be extracted.

Wolf Teeth: Wolf teeth are very small teeth located in front of the second premolar. Lower wolf teeth are rare; but are sometimes found in lines of Standardbreds. A horse might have none or up to four wolf teeth. Although not all wolf teeth are a problem, veterinarians routinely remove them to prevent pain or interference from a bit.

Hooks: When cheek teeth are out of alignment, hooks can form. Hooks on the upper cheek teeth can interfere with biting. Hooks on the lower cheek teeth can force the horse to chew up and down, causing stress on the jaw muscle.

Canines: Canine teeth are sharp teeth used for tearing food. Canines are primarily found in the male horse and can become too sharp. These sharp teeth can cause injuries to other horses during play and may interfere with the bit. These teeth can be shortened and filed.

Keep An Eye On The Teeth

The earlier you catch equine dental problems, the better, so it’s important to schedule routine dentistry procedures.

Signs can be obvious (pain, mouth irritation) or subtle (dropping food, undigested food particles in manure, tongue lolling, excess salivation, bucking, failing to stop or turn, bad breath or facial swelling). Some horses might show no signs because they simply adapt to their discomfort!

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