T.R.E.E.S. Traveller's Rest Equine Elders Sanctuary

Equine Elders' Dental Care

Routine dental care is important throughout a horse’s life, but becomes an essential element of caring for an older horse.  Once all of his permanent teeth have come in, usually by 5 years of age, the horse’s teeth will continue to erupt through the gumline for the majority of his life.  Regular chewing, especially of grass, wears down the teeth as they continue to grow.  Because of the way the horse chews, sharp points develop on the premolars and molars (the cheekteeth) over time, causing ulcers on the cheeks and tongue.  This can be painful to the horse, causing abnormal chewing and either dropping a portion of the feed or not chewing it completely, leading to inefficient digestion.  Sometimes, the length of the teeth are not all worn down at the same rate, causing some teeth to be longer and their opposing teeth to be shorter.  In some cases, a long tooth can even wear its opposing tooth all the way down to the gumline causing deep infections.  When the lengths of the teeth are not even, the horse cannot chew in a normal circular grinding motion and is forced to chew up and down.  Again, a portion of the feed may be dropped and/or the food may not be chewed completely leading to efficient digestion.
The best way to treat dental problems in the horse is by prevention.  The teeth are floated, or filed, to remove all of the sharp points and excessively long areas of the teeth.  It has also been demonstrated that routine floating may slow down the natural rate of tooth eruption, thereby increasing the longevity of each tooth.  Most veterinarians and equine dentists recommend that an adult horse with no dental abnormalities be floated annually.  In older horses, however, dental problems may already exist either from inappropriate preventative maintenance, trauma, missing teeth via surgery or natural causes, or conformation of the mouth.  For these horses, floating may be necessary 2-3 times per year.
Routine dental care for your horse can be provided by your equine veterinarian or by an equine dentist.  A dental appointment should include a complete oral exam using a full-mouth speculum to open the horse’s mouth and a light to examine all of the teeth, followed by floating and correction of dental abnormalities, and a description to the owner of the findings and the procedures.  There are two methods used to float the teeth: either “by hand,” using hand-held files that are scraped back and forth along the teeth to file them down, or by using motorized equipment with varying sized and shaped heads that file down each tooth using a high speed motion.  If other procedures are necessary for your horse, such as sedation, x-rays, and tooth extractions, an equine veterinarian should be called.







Related Information:
Signs of Possible
Dental Trouble
(Please remember that many times there will be no obvious signs of dental disease until problems are severe.)
  • dropping more food than previously.
  • eating more slowly than before.
  • the appearance of "quids" (wads of grass or hay that the horse tries to chew, then spits out.)
  • head shaking
  • holding the head to one side while chewing
  • whole grains in the manure
  • bad odor in the mouth and nose
  • swelling on the face or along jaw
  • bleeding gums
  • tossing the head while being ridden
  • uncharacteristically fighting the bit
  • weight loss or poor condition
If you notice any of these signs of developing problems, contact your veterinarian or equine dentist as soon as possible.
As with human teeth, preventing the progression of trouble is much easier than correcting problems at a later time!
(many qualified dentists may not have listed themselves here.  Ask local clubs or organizations for references.)




NOTE:  Material presented by Traveller's Rest Equine Elders Sanctuary on equineelders.org or in any other manner is for information purposes only.  It is in no way intended to replace the services or advice of your veterinarian.