Horse Dental Care, Dental Problems, and Treatments – A Comprehensive Guide To Horse Dental Wellness

horse dental

Horses are man’s best friends. As horses are considered to be one of the most primitive animals known to man, horses are much prized for their agility, their incredible memory power, and they are perceptive as well as cognitive abilities. Because of these characteristics, horse breeding has become a passion as well as a business for a lot of people around the world. As such, a good knowledge of the upkeep and maintenance of horses is essential. Remember, as horses can mean so much for their owners, horse dental health is a crucial component for the overall upkeep of horses.

Problems with molars and incisors in a grown-up and elderly horses are the most common horse dental problems. As the evolution of dental structures is a continuous phenomenon, horses exhibit rapid changes in their dental growth most during the ages of 2 and 5. These constant changes lead to many potential horse dental problems, including wear and tear issues, infections, loss of teeth, teeth overgrowth, and the like. Ensure to be proactive about horse dental care by consulting vet professionals and nip in the bud any horse dental health issues.

Horse Dental Formula

Another interesting feature of a horse dental structure is its upper jaw is wider than the lower jaw. It ensures efficient chewing of food. It must also be remembered that teeth are also at a 10-15 degree angle to each other to enhance the chewing capabilities.

In young horses with deciduous or milk teeth, the dental formula is 

horse dental formula

In adult and mature horses, the dental formula is

horse dental formula

Horse Dental Care

Horses, just like human beings, tend to run into dental issues all through their life. It is a popular misconception that teeth in horses grow throughout their lives. And do not forget that teeth have shorter lifespans than the actual lifespan of the horses. Horses go through different kinds of dental issues at various stages of their life. Horse dental care may vary depending on the age of the horse. Lets now have a look at the dental care of a horse at various stages of its life.

The age group of the horses Possible horse dental problems Symptoms exhibited Care to be taken
Young horses Loss of milk teeth or deciduous teeth
Wolf teeth
Head tossing Quidding Drooling  Foaming from mouth Spilling food while chewing Regular professional dental check-ups.
Mature horses Dental hooks Ramps Parrot mouth and Sow mouth Excessive transverse ridges Caries Wave mouth and shear mouth Diastema Sepernumary teeth Dental infections 
Head tossing Quidding Drooling Foaming Lack of interest in eating or drinking Feeling unsocial with people as well as other horses Inability to hold on to the bit Regular dental checkups Correction of misaligned teeth Removal of overgrown teeth Correction of gaps between teeth Treatments for infections
Mature horses Loss of teeth Inability to chew Lack of nutrition Loss of weight Severe drooling Quidding Spitting food Fear of other younger horses Poor health A separate soft diet that meets nutritional requirements Making sure the older horse is able to have its share of food without interference from other horses.

Dental care in a Young Horses

A very common dental problem seen in young horses is the loss of milk teeth or temporary teeth. Though this condition in itself is not alarming, a milky tooth that does not dislodge itself on its own may sometimes be a cause for concern. This tooth may lead to pain and infection, necessitating the involvement of an Equine dentist or a veterinarian. Other times, a milky tooth that lodges itself as a cap over a sprouting permanent tooth also may be a cause for concern. This condition is generally seen in the back teeth and maybe difficult to locate and remove. Common signs of dental problems in young horses may include:

  • Head tossing
  • Drooling
  • Foaming from the mouth
  • Quidding
  • Spilling hay while chewing
  • Feeling unsocial

Dental Care in Mature Horses

The most common problems seen in mature horses relate to the formation of hooks and sharp edges on the teeth. Dental problems seen in mature horses largely depend on the kind of food they eat.

Wild horses that graze around in the forests tend to catch or sand and gravel. This sand and gravel will cause the teeth to wear down. When it comes to domestic horses, their diet includes much softer material since their diet is well-planned, consequently leading to insufficient wearing down of teeth. It results in sharp and pointed-edged teeth that cut into the horse’s teeth and gums, leading to painful cuts and lesions, and ultimately infections.

Regular dental check-ups are a must in horses to rule out any injuries and infections. Among them, Floating – the process of removing the sharp points from the teeth must be done at least once a year as a preventive measure.

Another common problem seen in horses is “wolf teeth.” Wolf teeth are the external teeth that grow in a horse’s mouth, making it difficult for the horse to hold on to its Bit. These teeth need to be professionally removed.

Dental care in Senior Horses

The most commonly seen dental problem in older horses is the loss of teeth. It causes difficulty in chewing, leading to nutritional loss. Common symptoms of dental issues in senior horses include:

  • Severe drooling
  • Quidding
  • Spilling food
  • Poor overall health

Special care needs to be taken for senior horses keeping their age in mind. The feed given to them must be very soft and easy-to-chew. Special care must be taken to ensure that they get the full share of their feed.

Signs of horse dental problems

It is also to be remembered that every horse may display certain behavior patterns when faced with dental problems. Recognizing the signs of dental problems in a horse on time and getting them checked with a veterinarian is crucial to ensure the well-being of the horse. It is essential to note here that the typical symptoms of a dental problem may be similar to behavioral issues. It is also essential to rule out possible dental problems before chalking out the symptoms to just bad behavior.

Some of the common signs of  dental problems in a horse are:


It is the first essential symptom that shows possible dental issues in horses. Quidding means that the horse is not swallowing what it is chewing. Instead, the horse is spitting it out.

Tossing Head

Another noticeable feature is the tossing of its head due to dental issues.

Slow eating

Another obvious give-away of an existing dental problem, slow eating may indicate that the horse may have swollen gums, or broken teeth or some other issue that is making eating difficult.

Feeling distressed with the bit

A horse may find it difficult to hold on to the bit if it has and dental problems. The presence of extra teeth might require the removal of the tooth or placing a bit seat.

Spilling food

A horse with dental discomfort might find it challenging to hold food in its mouth.

Loss of weight and low energy levels

The inability to hold food in the mouth, inability to chew and spitting of food will result in nutritional requirements not being met sufficiently. All this ultimately reflects on the health of the horse.


Halitosis or bad smell emanating from a horse’s mouth or nose may indicate an infection in the mouth or gums. It may require treating with antibiotics.

Inability to drink water

If a horse is experiencing dental discomfort, it shows an aversion towards drinking water, especially cold water. Coldwater may aggravate discomfort and pain in the affected region, creating an aversion for drinking water. 

Discharge from the Sinuses

If a smelly discharge is noticed, it may indicate not only a sinus infection but also sometimes a dental infection.

Exhibiting withdrawal symptoms

When a horse does not allow anyone to touch or pet it, it is a tell-tale indication of its discomfort or pain due to underlying dental problems or infection. The horse may also not behave socially towards the other horses and be withdrawn in general.


Epiphora or tears streaming down could be another sign of a potential dental infection.

Common Horse Dental Problems

Traditionally, horses were largely wild animals habituated to grazing on grass for long hours, almost 16-18 hours a day. Horses grazed with their heads down on blades of grass. The jaw movement, essentially circular, ensured that the teeth wore-off evenly.

Additionally, the domestication of horses has seen large changes in the diet patterns of horses, as well as the number of feeding hours and the angle at which the horses chew. All these factors have resulted in an overall change in the wearing-off pattern of the horse’s teeth.

Apart from causing discomfort and an inability to eat and drink, Horse dental problems also lead to a number of other issues pain, stiffness, and inflammation in other parts of the body like neck and back. It happens because dental problems also affect the musculoskeletal system on the back and the neck of the horse.

Some of the most common dental problems seen in horses include:

Dental Hooks

Another disconcerting teeth problem in horses is the issue of Dental Hooks. It occurs due to the incorrect alignment of the molar set of teeth in the horse’s mouth. This improper alignment occurs due to overbite or under-bite patterns of chewing, and uneven wearing of the teeth. Uneven wearing-out of teeth causes some of the teeth to be longer than the other, resulting in extreme discomfort while chewing and eating.

Parrot Mouth and Sow Mouth

Parrot mouth is a condition where the incisors on the upper jaw of the horse’s mouth would protrude over the incisors of the lower jaw. In Sow Mouth, incisors on the lower jaw extend beyond the incisors of the upper jaw. Both the above conditions make it difficult for the horse to chew or eat properly, reducing the protruding incisors, and floating procedures are generally performed by equine dentists to overcome this issue.


Ramps are similar to dental hooks, in that they are caused due to incorrect alignment of teeth. In Ramps, though, the slope of the affected teeth is more gradual. The soft tissue in the mouth is affected, causing limited movement of the lower jaw.

Wave Mouth

Wave Mouth is a condition where the molar set of teeth has worn off unevenly. This causes extreme difficulty in grinding food. As a result, a complete change in diet to suit the horse’s specific teeth condition and regular dental check-ups are crucial for maintaining the overall health of horses with this dental issue.

Shear Mouth

Horses with this dental problem tend to chew and grind their food in up and down motion, rather than in circular motion, which is the standard norm. As a result of this chewing pattern, the teeth that are placed outwards towards the cheeks become long, sharp, and pointy due to insufficient grinding. An equine dentist will be able to advise on various changes that need to be made to correct this condition.

Wolf Teeth

Wolf teeth or milky teeth lodging themselves over permanent teeth that grow from behind can be painful for horses. However, in horses below three years of age, this removal can be done quite easily. Still, it becomes complicated as the horse grows older.

Excessive Transverse Ridges

The horse’s mouth is designed in a way to have ridges that are transverse running along with the top layer of the teeth. This kind of a placement of teeth ensures a proper chewing and griding activity so that food is broken down into an easily digestible consistency. In the condition of excessive transverse ridges, the normal griding activity is severely hampered. Such a condition warrants a reduction of the ridges to a normal level.


Caries is another disconcerting condition where the teeth become infected, causing swelling, abscess, and an overall difficulty in chewing. This dental condition can occur due to several reasons, including injury, old age, or incorrect wear and tear of the teeth. The problem needs to be fixed by an equine dentist or a professional to avoid fractures later.


Diastema is a condition where gaps form in between teeth. When food and grass get stuck in between the teeth, it leads to the gums wearing off in the long term, leading to another condition known as periodontal pocketing. 

An equine dentist will try to correct that gap between the teeth, remove any residual food material by flushing out by letting in high-pressure water or high-pressure air. Regular dental check-ups are essential for horses suffering from this condition.

Supernumerary Teeth

As is evident, this condition is marked by the presence of more number of teeth than normal. This condition becomes even more problematic if the horse doesn’t have teeth that oppose the extra teeth. As this condition is rare, professional care is essential to ensure the well-being of horses. The overgrowing teeth need to be reduced frequently as a part of the treatment procedure. 

Caring for the horse dental health

  • Awareness of the horse’s behavior is the first step towards managing horse dental health. In this context, it pays to know that horses tend to exhibit irritable behavior when suffering from dental issues. As a consequence of underlying dental issues, horses may not be able to eat or drink properly, which is the first sign of dental issues in a horse.
  • The horse caretaker should check the horse’s mouth regularly for hay or food stuck in the between the teeth and clean them regularly with a strong brush, water, and grass.
  • Apart from the above steps, the caretaker should also flush out any particles still stuck in between the teeth using a high-pressured hose pipe or a syringe.
  • As proper jaw alignment is a crucial factor, the horses should always feed on the ground to achieve the best results.
  • The horse owners and caretakers should schedule regular equine dentist or veterinarian check-ups to ensure that any horse dental infections or problems are recognized in early stages, and proper care is taken.

Horse Dental Equipment

It helps to have a basic knowledge of horse dental tools used by an equine dentist or a veterinarian as it helps us have a better interaction with the professionals during their visits.

Horse Dental Speculum

Being a very basic instrument used by an equine dentist – horse dental speculum – helps the professional pry open the mouth of the horse and hold it in place while conducting a physical examination of the horse’s mouth. Moreover, it will help keep the horse’s mouth open while the dentist performs the following activities:

  1. Check the physical appearance of the mouth and teeth
  2. Check the oral cavity
  3. Rinse the mouth with a jet of water thereby washing off any remains of food
  4. Examine each tooth and the gums surrounding it to check for misaligned teeth, infections, injuries, etc.

Thanks to the horse dental speculum – a handy horse dental tool – the dentist use a variety of horse dental equipment to perform various procedures on the horse’s mouth.

Category of the horse dental tool Type of horse dental equipment
Horse Mouth Openers Pony mouth opener plates Pony mouth openers Incisor mouth opener plates Incisor mouth openers Lateral mouth openers Plates for lateral mouth openers Plates for mouth openers Cheek retractors
Wolf Teeth Extraction Forceps  Gouge forceps Bone rongeur Bone curette Elevators
Molar extraction Milk tooth forceps Molar forceps Fulcrum Forceps for removing fragments Joint molar separator
Dental hook Hook Sond Explorer sond Dental pic
Rasps Rasps Blades to screw the rasps Blades to stick the rasps Triangular inserts
Floats Pony floats floats
Rinsing Syringe Hose Hydro jet Rinsing pistol

Horse Dental Insurance

Horse dental care is an expensive affair. Regular dental check-ups, treatments, and medications don’t come cheap. Most of the insurance companies offer a comprehensive health package for horses that cover various aspects of horse dental.

Wrap Up

As horse dental health is a crucial and ongoing aspect of a horse’s overall well-being and upkeep, constant monitoring of horse dental health, regular dental check-ups are an essential aspect of taking care of a horse. Timely diagnosis and treatment of horse dental problems and infection ensure a comfortable time for horses as well as their owners.