Equine Dentistry

Let's talk about toothaches.

With 36 to 44 chances for a toothache, equine dental care isn’t just a should-do but a yearly must-do – and picking the right dentist for your horses is a delicate matter not to be taken lightly. As your mother (or father) used to say, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

A horse’s teeth begin to erupt in the first few days of life, so a horse should be seen for problems at any age, as young as 6 months old. Horses’ teeth are called hypsodont teeth (having high or deep crowns and short roots, as in the molar teeth of a horse) that continue to erupt throughout a horse’s lifetime until the teeth are worn down to nothing. Taking care of a geriatric horse with worn-down teeth is a challenge, involving mashes, supplements and vigilance.

The goal of equine dentistry isn’t much different from human dentistry: perfecting what nature gave the horse, from crooked teeth to dental decay. Wild horses forage 16-18 hours a day under normal conditions, which allows their teeth to grind together and wear down the front teeth evenly, as well as the molars.

The following factors can cause devastating joint conditions in young horses: genetic predisposition, fast growth and body size, nutritional imbalances and mechanical stress or trauma. An understanding of the first signs of lameness can help save your horse’s joints. Download AQHA’s Young Horse Joint Health FREE report to keep your horse safe.

Because we often stall and feed horses, changing their natural grazing habits, their teeth often don’t wear the same, creating sharp points that can create problems. The front teeth can also wear unevenly, which can inhibit the proper intake and digestion of their food. Dr. Penny Lloyd, originally from Canada, has been an equine veterinarian for more than 19 years and has specific training in equine dentistry beyond her original schooling.

As horse owners, it’s part of our responsibility to see that our horses’ needs are met, and the most important aspect of equine dentistry is prevention. Tooth loss in a horse is permanent. With regular checkups, an equine dentist can find and correct other dental issues that can crop up, such as abscesses, ulcers, missing teeth, loose teeth, infected teeth or gums, periodontal disease, misalignment and abnormally long teeth.

Symptoms of Dental Issues

    • Weight loss, a dull coat or a loss of ability to perform (conditioning)
    • Dropping food, turning head to the side while chewing or dropping wadded balls of chewed hay (quidding)
    • Eating slowly or refusing to eat
    • Foul smell coming from the mouth or nose (can indicate a bad tooth)
    • Discharge from one nostril
    • Manure that shows a lack of digestion
    • Swelling in the face
    • Salivating more than normal
    • Performance issues that include head tossing, pulling on the bit, refusing to hold head in a collected manner, gaping mouth while being ridden, grinding teeth, bucking, not wanting to go from a walk to a trot, a trot to a gallop, etc.

For such large animals, horses have very fragile legs. Many factors determine your horse’s joint health. You need to read the information in AQHA’s Young Horse Joint Health FREE report to be an informed horse owner. Don’t let your horse’s joints suffer as a result of your ignorance.