Often care of your horse's teeth is not thought of until
there is a problem. There are various points in a horse's
life that the teeth may become a particular problem.
Young horses that lose teeth and have new ones coming in
can be fussy. "Wolf" teeth appear more commonly in stallions
and geldings but mares have had them also - and can create
problems with bitting. Improper dental care can lead to poor
condition, bitting and riding problems, colic, increased feed
costs and a host of other problems.
Simply having the vet out once a year to check teeth, physical
exam, Coggins test and unless you do it yourself cleaning
the sheath of geldings and stallions is a minimal investment
and should be done. Regarding dental problems this can often
catch problems early. There are occasionally horses that need
floated twice per year, and some horses that will need a visit
from an equine dentist.
Watch your horse when he eats - does he salivate excessively?
Drop bits of feed? Is there undigested feed coming through
in the manure. Are there lumps under the jawbone where new
teeth are coming in? Does the horse have an overshot or undershot
jaw? Does he stretch his head out or tilt it to the side when
chewing? They might toss the head while under saddle or fight
the bit excessively. This is telling you he hurts - listen!
All of these are signs of dental issues that need attention.
Often uneven wear means "hooks" form on the teeth where they
don't meet exactly. These can be very sharp and cut into the
horse's cheek as he chews - to deal with it he'll sometimes
stretch or tilt his head to keep his cheek from getting in
the way. Some horses will avoid being bridled, are uncomfortable
carrying their head and relaxing their jaw as needed for many
performance classes. The use of a noseband makes this problem
worse, as there is no escape from the pain for the horse.
For most horses a manual "floating" of the teeth is enough.
A large rasp is inserted in the mouth and used to file off
sharp points. This is sometimes done with a mild anesthetic.
Horses with more in depth problems often get a visit from
an equine dentist. This can involve more extensive file work
or, more commonly, heavier anesthetic and power tools used
to more quickly grind the sharp points and poor teeth structure.
Occasionally a horse neglected will have hooks form and in
time will shear off part of the tooth. One stallion actually
had half of a back tooth broken off, with half remaining.
Little wonder he was having problems keeping weight on. Removing
the half and updating his dental work made it easier for him
to chew and in turn properly digest his food.
From 2-5 years the horse will have up to 24 teeth coming
in sometimes over a dozen at a time. Is it little wonder some
horses said to be "resisting" and "stubborn" and "ornery"
have a change of attitude when instead of a new piece of equipment
to restrain the head a trainer checks the teeth and corrects
problems? When a horse begins behaving and is cooperative
and suddenly is resistant instead of reaching for that noseband,
spurs or different bridle - check his teeth. His formative
training years is also developing his mouth - physically as
well as trying to cooperate with us. It's advised that during
this time twice per year exams are good - proper dental care
is every bit as important as care of a youngster's legs and
Once the horse is mature his problems won't be nearly as
bad if he's been on a regular program. Once per year checks
will probably be enough then until he gets older and his mouth
begins changing again.
Horses on sandy pastures can have more wear than those without
the abrasiveness of their environment. Horses that chew wood,
crib or have other issues can be expected to need more dental
care than those without those habits. A normal horse on pasture
can often grind his teeth pretty evenly, thus needing minimal
care. The structure of the mouth often isn't considered when
breeding - yet poor mouth and jaw conformation can predispose
the foal to problems. I've known one breeder to further take
surgical steps to correct an overbite - so it doesn't show
but it doesn't mean that, genetically, it's not there. That
youngster, now an adult, will be bred resulting in additional
dental issues being created.
Older horses and especially older horses that haven't received
proper dental care throughout their lives can be especially
prone to problems. Horses missing teeth can have wads of grass
or hay they try to eat but can't. They might tip their head
to the side when eating, there might be swelling on the face
or jaw and a bad odor on the mouth. The faster you correct
his issues the better he can deal with the normal problems
Some horses have teeth so bad in older age that special equine
senior rations are needed. Some people use shredded, soaked
beet pulp to add fiber to an older horse's diet. In some cases
a product like Purina's Equine Senior is added to the soaked
beet pulp, forming a diet that is easy for the horse to eat
with minimal chewing needed. An easy way to soak beet pulp
is put it in a large kitchen colander - in the wash rack run
water over it, soaking it thoroughly. Leave it to soak at
least 20 minutes - it will "puff up" and nearly double in
size from the dry state. Remove anything not eaten by the
next morning and fix up only what you feed in one feeding.
Left to sit it can turn sour.
Regular dental care for your horse isn't a luxury - it's
a necessity. It adds years to your horse's life, it makes
his time with you more comfortable, it's something that makes
sense to pay attention to.
If your horse gets fussy under saddle, before reaching for
nosebands consider if his teeth are bothering him.
About the Author
Ron Petracek was raised in southern Idaho with horses and
the great outdoors. With this continued passion He now shares
through a a vast equine network. Learn more by clicking the
Amazing Equine Network System