Dentistry for the Performance Horse

It is obvious to most horse owners, trainers and breeders that attention to proper dental maintenance is important to the overall health of all horses. A horse’s teeth erupt continuously throughout its life, and, a minimum of once a year need maintenance filing, – known as floating, in order to maintain a normal biting and grinding surface. Failure to maintain a normal bite results in poor digestion and tooth decay.

Performance horses have special dental needs. The bridle applies pressure to the cheek area and can cause pain as it applies pressure to wolf teeth or sharp cheek teeth. This can cause head tossing or other signs of bit evasion. In its most severe form it can cause the horse to carry its head and neck abnormally, thus straining the back as well. As a result the horse appears to be stiff all over. It is a waste of time and money to train a horse that has not had the benefit of sophisticated dental care.

The following dental care schedule is recommended for all riding and driving (including backyard pleasure/trail) horses:

o Removal of wolf teeth by the horse’s third year, or before the horse goes into training.

o A thorough examination of the teeth twice a year. This requires placing a large speculum in the mouth to open it widely. Each individual tooth is then felt as well as visualized by the examiner.

o Missing or uneven teeth can be addressed. If decaying teeth are suspected, dental x-rays can confirm the diagnosis. Decayed teeth are usually removed.

o Young horses (ages 2 to 3) often have retained deciduous teeth (“caps”) that cause pain, biting problems and incomplete chewing. These should be removed.

o If incisors (front teeth) are uneven, then they are leveled with a rasp. Any sharp or uneven molars (back teeth) are rasped until they are smooth. Some horses have large spikes called “hooks” that must be removed with special instruments.

o The molars that contact the bit are rounded off in to “bit seats” that make bitting much more comfortable. This can be accomplished with files called floats or with drills, and does not appear to cause harm to the teeth.

Retired horses and others who are not ridden or driven should still have their teeth examined a minimum of once a year.

Equine dentistry has evolved dramatically over the past decade. In many hospitals, fees for this service have risen dramatically. The reason for this is that the amount of time, expertise and instrumentation has increased over a few short years. Because of this, athletic horses perform better, and older horses live longer lives.

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