For the love of you pet: Horses need to see the dentist, too

By John Beck
Aug. 15, 2013 at 3:15 a.m.

Over the last few weeks, I noticed that my horse is dropping feed. What do I need to do?

Dropping feed is a common sign of dental issues. Other things you may notice include weight loss, poor hair coat, difficulty chewing, episodes of colic, bad breath, nasal discharge, facial swelling, wadding up of hay (also known as quidding), stems of hay or whole grain in stools, fighting the bit, resisting training, failure to stop or turn while riding, and/or head tilting while eating.

Injuries to the cheeks, tongue and gums can occur; therefore, oral exams should be performed every six months to one year. Many horses will not show signs of dental issues until the problem is severe; therefore, proper dental care will safeguard that your horse remains healthy and comfortable, as well as ensure good performance.

Horses require a flat grinding surface in order to eat because of the fact that they chew in a circular motion. Misalignments, missing teeth, environmental factors and diet can cause teeth to wear abnormally since horses teeth erupt or grow continuously throughout their life.

Common dental concerns and malocclusions include hooks, ramps, points, waves, diastemas, overbites, underbites and wolf teeth. Hooks predominantly occur on the upper last molar and upper front premolar because of the upper teeth overhanging the lower teeth. This can cause severe bit trouble and trauma to surrounding tissue.

Ramps occur on the lower front premolar and last molar. This can cause the lower jaw to be forced forward and in turn result in jaw pain. Both ramps and hooks prevent the horse from chewing freely.

Enamel points typically occur on the outside up the upper teeth and the inside of the lower teeth. These points can cut the cheeks and tongue causing significant pain. Waves are uneven dental arcades that can occur because of malocclusions, missing teeth, hooks or ramps.This can prevent proper chewing and grinding of feed.

Diastemas are spaces between teeth that can cause feed to get trapped. This can be painful and result in periodontal disease.

Wolf teeth are small teeth found in some horses directly in front of the premolars and are most commonly in the upper jaw. Many times, these teeth are removed during castrations or during the first dental. Some owners find that wolf teeth cause bit discomfort and performance problems.

Proper dental care, for example examinations and teeth floats, can be performed by your veterinarian. A speculum will be used to hold your horse's mouth for a thorough evaluation. Your veterinarian will look for the aforementioned problems as well as assess your horse's mouth for odor, ulceration, gum disease, fractured teeth, foreign bodies, inflammation and lacerations.

A teeth float by either hand or power tools will be performed if deemed necessary. This will create a smooth surface for chewing, which is necessary since chewing requires significant movement.

Filing of teeth does not hurt your horse since there are no nerves in the portion of the tooth that is being corrected. Depending on the condition of the horse's teeth, this procedure should only take around 30 minutes and will make a huge difference for your horse.

Dr. John Beck has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. Submit questions to Dr. Beck at



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