How To Look After Horses Teeth

Woman Looking at Horse's Teeth

Regular checkups and routine care are essential to your horse’s health and well-being. Over time, we have modified the horse’s eating patterns through domestication which has changed how horses’ teeth grow. Caring for your horse’s teeth will keep your equine friend happy and healthy, and avoid issues such as periodontal disease (gum disease), ulcers, infections and unwanted pain. 

An oral examination is an essential part of a horse’s annual check-up by a veterinarian, however, some horses require a dental check every six to 9 months as advised by the dental technician or vet attending to them. When you are purchasing a horse, the pre-purchase vetting should include a check of the horse’s teeth. It is worth considering that some horses require sedation by a vet in order to have a full dental check-up and treatment.

Dental care for Young, Adult & Mature Horses

Although most foals have healthy teeth there are a couple of congenital issues such as “parrot mouth” and “sow mouth” to look out for. If you notice anything abnormal in your foal’s jaw it is best to get the advice of an equine dentist to get it looked into before it develops into anything more serious. Similarly, after a few years, young horses will lose their “baby teeth” after a few years and while this process doesn’t generally cause any problems, there are some rare cases where the adult teeth can become impacted and cause infections. 

Horse teeth have very long tooth roots which will continue to grow (push out from the root) throughout their lives – before they were domesticated they would often eat more roughage, often up to 14 hours per day which would naturally wear down their teeth. However, in order to prevent teeth from getting too long or any sharp edges from occurring, a horse will need to undergo a dental treatment commonly referred to as “floating”. Floating removes the sharp enamel points which prevents cuts or ulcers from appearing on their tongue or cheeks. 

As horses mature they can encounter more difficulties with their oral health. As they age, they may start to lose the occasional tooth and are more susceptible to fractures, which can make it difficult to chew food, causing them to spill hard feed and make them drool. To counteract this, investing in easy-to-eat feed or creating a softened mash of food is important to help them ingest the nutrients they need. 

Common Dental Problems in Horses

Horses can suffer from a variety of dental problems, the most common include:

  • Sharp enamel points on the cheek teeth
  • Lost or broken teeth
  • Abnormally long, or excessively worn teeth
  • Infected teeth and/or gums – caries
  • Diastemas (gaps between the teeth that can become impacted by food)
  • Periodontal disease 
  • Retained Caps (Deciduous teeth that have not shed)
  • Long or sharp caning (bridle) teeth interfering with the bit
  • Uneven bite planes
  • Discomfort caused by the bit making contact with wolf teeth 

What are Wolf Teeth in Horses?

Wolf teeth are small, pointed teeth that sit directly in front of the first upper cheek teeth, and rarely appear on the lower cheek teeth. They can usually appear around 12-18 months of age, and around 70% of horses will develop them. Generally speaking, wolf teeth do not cause problems although in some cases the bit can cause discomfort as it sits on the bars of the mouth and can come into contact with these teeth. There is sometimes debate as to whether they should be removed as a preventative measure. Understanding the physiology of wolf teeth can help individual horse owners make the best decision for their horses when combined with advice from a qualified equine technician and/or veterinary surgeon. 

How to manage your horse’s teeth

As mentioned above, arrange regular dental checkups so that you and your dental technician know what is normal for your horse. If you see any changes to your horse’s demeanour or how they eat their food or how they are with the bit when being ridden, it is worth having their teeth checked. Recognising issues before they get serious will maintain your horse’s health and hopefully prevent any large, unexpected vet bills. Things to look out for include loss of feed from their mouths or difficulty chewing, loss of condition, head tilting or tossing especially when being worked, odour or blood coming from the mouth, nasal discharge, and swelling of the face, jaw or mouth areas.

If you are ever unsure, consult Beva, (the equine vets’ website) or the British Association of Equine Dental Technicians.

Horse & Pony Insurance Cover

As part of your horse or pony insurance policy, you are required to have your horse’s teeth checked annually or as recommended by your dental technician. One of the most important things when it comes to looking after your horse’s health is understanding what is “normal” for your equine friend. Your policy will cover unexpected eventualities such as teeth fractures, and tooth or sinus abscesses. These are often diagnosed with a CT scan especially if there is the involvement of tooth roots and the jaw bone. What isn’t covered is routine dentistry which includes normal teeth rasping, and widening of diastemas, caries and in older horses, routine dentistry includes work to repair teeth that have become worn or damaged or due to the horse being older.