You’ve probably heard the phrases “straight from the horse’s mouth” or “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” But did you realize just how critical dental health is for your horse? Good dental health is an important part of your horse’s overall health and well-being. Good dental health is more than just floating; it means examining the mouth thoroughly and relating it to the rest of the horse’s systemic health. It doesn’t just make them comfortable in a bridle; it also:
• allows them to use feed efficiently
• reduces their risk of choke
• prevents or addresses pain and disease from tooth root abscesses or fractures
• helps maintain health in other structures of the head such as the sinuses and temporomandibular joint.
Horses should have a full dental exam scheduled with a veterinarian at least once yearly, with floating or other intervention as needed to address abnormalities in wear. This article explains the unique features of equine dentition, how dentals are performed, and what signs you can monitor to assess your horse’s dental well-being.
The dental problems that horses face are different from those of humans. Horses have hypsodont teeth, which means their teeth continue to erupt throughout life. The surfaces are worn down gradually as the horse grinds rough food, such as hay and grass. The upper arcade is wider than the lower arcade, and the uneven wear can result in sharp points on the outer surfaces of the upper teeth and inner surfaces of the lower teeth. These sharp points can cause pain and ulcerations of the tongue and/or cheeks. “Floating” is the process of reducing sharp points with a file, or float. This may be power floats, which are motorized Dremel-like floats, hand floats, or a combination of the two.
First, the vet will perform a general examination to ensure the horse is healthy enough for sedation and floating. Then your horse will be sedated so that a mouth speculum can be placed safely. The speculum is like a special halter with metal plates that that rest on the horse’s incisors to hold the mouth open, allowing your vet to safely see, feel, and treat the horse’s mouth all the way back to the very furthest molars. The mouth is flushed, and the veterinarian will then carefully examine the mouth and perform treatments as needed. A “routine” dental may involve just floating sharp points and hooks, while further diagnostics or treatment may be needed if fractured or loose teeth are present.
In general, most horses need a full dental exam and routine care performed every 6 months to one year. Some signs that suggest your horse may need an exam sooner include dropping feed or clumps of hay, sudden inappetence, unusual head position or chewing motion, unexplained lost weight, fussiness with the bridle, or one-sided nasal discharge. Call your veterinarian to discuss performing a full physical and dental exam if any of these should occur.
For more information on equine dentals, please call us at 888-860-0244. The sources listed below are also great resources for learning more about your horse’s mouth and dental care.