Dr. Jay loves teeth

Dr Jay loves to do teeth    …..We don’t know why (it’s hard work, it is very physical, often in very hot or very cold weather, horses can be uncooperative), but he still loves it after more than 10 years.  So we asked him.

He responded, “Teeth are amazing! I bet improved dental heath has singularly advanced horse longevity more than anything in the last decade. The mouth is so important and there is much, much more than just rasping a few sharp points. When I can attend to a   horse for many years, it will live a longer and healthier life. This direct contribution    motivates me, and inspires me. And I do love physical work, in hot or cold weather, anywhere.”

Equine dentistry is extremely important for your horse
Horses will process and digest food more efficiently when their teeth are properly maintained. As your horse grinds his/her food up, the teeth grind together. This daily grinding action is what causes your horse’s molars to develop very sharp edges. This causes discomfort when a bit or halter pushes the cheek against the sharp tooth. When your horse chews, and they have sharp molar edges, their cheek and tongue can get lacerated from the chewing action with the sharp edges. Also, if the sharp edges are not corrected in a timely fashion they can cause a slab tooth fracture where your horse’s tooth breaks and will eventually need to have that tooth extracted. Uneven wear on teeth can also cause your horse’s teeth to work themselves loose. These are a few reasons why it is very important to have your horse’s teeth examined by a veterinarian.

Listed below are some signs that your horse may be experiencing dental issues:

  1. Dropping feed from his mouth while eating
  2. Quidding, or dropping partially chewed hay balls
  3. Having difficulty chewing
  4. Eating slowly
  5. Eating with a head tilt
  6. Loss of body condition
  7. Trouble maintaining weight
  8. A “hard keeper”
  9. Large or undigested food particles in manure– like long hay stems or whole, uncracked grain
  10. Bit issues or performance issues:
    – head tilting or tossing,
    – bit chewing,
    – tongue lolling,
    – fighting the bit,
    – resisting the bridle
  11. Swollen jaw/face
  12. Nasal discharge
  13. Choke==>  one-time or reoccurring
  14. Life-threatening colic (as a result of impaction of un-chewed food in the intestines)


We have learned recently that the mouth is much more complicated than previously imagined.  So the simple rasping of sharp points is no long the main issue. The overall process includes having your horse examined (temperature, listen to the heart) and mildly sedated and placing the horse’s into a speculum. This allows your equine veterinary dentist total access to your horse’s mouth. Sedation allows the horse’s head to be placed in an elevated head stand to help get a better view of what is going on in your horse’s mouth. Sharp molar edges, abscesses, bit misalignments, cracked molars, slab fractures, wolf teeth, retained caps, deciduous teeth, long incisors, hooks, ramps, waves and gum inflammation or periodontal pockets and disease are some of the issues.

What does it mean to “float” a horse’s teeth?

Routine maintenance of a horse’s mouth has been historically referred to as “floating.”  It is an old English carpentry term similar to the “planning of wood”.  Floating generally removes sharp enamel dental points.  “Occlusal equilibration” is the modern term now used to describe the smoothing of enamel points, correcting malocclusion (faulty meeting of the upper and lower teeth), balancing the dental arcades, and correcting other dental problems.  “Floating,” once a simple word now represents very complex dental examinations and procedures.

What is the difference between traditional floating and power floating?

Traditionally, horses have had their sharp enamel points and dental crown elongations reduced with hand-held rasps (floats).  These manual dental instruments have improved in quality over the past 20 years but still require a reasonable amount of manual dexterity, physical strength and “elbow grease.”  Power floats are electrical, high-quality dental tools that have evolved over the past 10 years. These instruments reduce the physical effort that is required, and with expertise and caution, allow for more complete and efficient dental care.

Motorized instruments have replaced molar cutters and chisels since there is less chance of tooth damage.

Will my horse need to be sedated during a dental exam?

Usually yes. Some horses find the process of having their mouth opened and instruments placed in the oral cavity to be stressful. Why make your horse endure the process?  And to do thorough dental work, sedation is often needed. If your horse did not get sedated for its dental work, it probably didn’t get a good job. For a complete oral examination and good quality corrective care, most horses benefit from a mild sedative to relieve any stress or unnecessary movement on the patient’s part.

Why is it important for an equine veterinarian to perform dental work on my horse?

A veterinarian with dental experience is the most qualified to understand and treat a dental condition that may affect the horse’s overall health.  Most equine dental procedures, including basic floating, irreversibly change the horse’s teeth and therefore are most appropriately performed by a VETERINARIAN.  A licensed veterinarian with a special interest in dentistry is likely the most qualified and most certified option available.  Remember, it is veterinarians who primarily train everyone else– including lay dentists and members of various non-veterinary dental organizations carrying assorted “certifications”.

Why choose a veterinarian over a “dentist”?

The word “Dentist” is a very deceiving word in the horse world.  It has NO official definition or punishment for falsely using the word.  It becomes very confusing for a horse owner, determined to provide the best care for their horses, to make a decision as to who is to treat their horse.   Laymen “dentists” have NO MEDICAL TRAINING. Unsuspecting horse owners often erroneously choose “dentists” over veterinarians because of this deceptive marketing of the word.

With increased interest in equine dentistry and the expansion of medical science in this area, horses can now receive more thorough dental examinations and better quality comprehensive dental care.  Many equine dental procedures involve the use of sophisticated hand and motorized instruments which allow appropriate work to be carried out in the mouth.  Veterinarians have the educational background in areas of anatomy, physiology and pharmacology to treat the “whole horse”.  The administration and use of sedatives and tranquilizers are often necessary to examine and perform thorough floating and other dental procedures.  These agents under law should only be        administered by a licensed veterinarian.  The potential exists for damage to dental structures if instruments are not used properly or procedures are not performed to            standard. 

Choose a veterinarian trained in equine dentistry to provide dental care for your horse(s).

Here is an illustration of some common dental problems:




Looking at the picture above, how could you reasonably believe that a layman teeth floater (non-veterinarian) could possibly be prepared to singularly address these issues? They simply cannot!

We don’t allow human dental technicians to singularly address and treat these issues, so why should your horse get a person with less training, make bigger decisions regarding the diagnosing and treating of your horse’s dental issues without the guidance of a doctor??

Here are some sharp dental points:

The black arrow shows the cut on the cheek. The white arrows show the molars having sharp edges which caused the horse to slice its cheek open.
“Hooks” can form on the first pre-molar on each side of the upper jaw. The image below shows what a frontal hook would look like in the horse’s mouth and why it would cause discomfort when the horse is carrying a bit in his mouth.

If the horse’s teeth are not grinding well, he is probably lacking in nutritional efficiency.

Horses experiencing performance issues may be corrected with bit seats.

Many veterinarian dentists may gently round-off the front surface of the first upper and lower cheek teeth. This creates a “bit seat”. This involves rounding the edges of those teeth so there are no sharp surfaces to catch or pinch soft tissue between the bit and the tooth.  It provides a more comfortable fit for the bit. Above is an illustration of a bit seat (although probably too rounded above).

“Slant” (or Diagonal Bite):   When looking at the incisors from the front, the incisors should look almost level. In some cases, when they are not level, they are clearly at a “slant”.  Below is an illustration.  A horse with a slant mouth has some upper incisors which are too long meeting lower incisors which are too short on one side of the mouth. The other side has the problem reversed. This is corrected using a power float while the horse is sedated by a licensed veterinarian. It is not uncommon for there to be quite severe cheek teeth problems with slanted incisors. Both problems need to be addressed at the same time by a veterinary dentist.

When horses flex at the poll, their lower jaw actually moves back in relation to their upper jaw. Horses with step teeth, ramp or a wave mouth do not have the forward/backward mobility making it harder for them to comfortably “go round”. This puts more strain on structures such as the temporal mandible joint (TMJ) and muscles in their neck and back. A horse floated on proper schedule can use their body more correctly. Horses experiencing TMJ problems may show signs of “feeling heavy in your hands”, pulling the reins out of your hands, head twisting, head tossing, head shaking, stiffness in its neck or back (causing rider to think that the saddle doesn’t fit) or sometimes even balking, rearing, bucking or other violent behaviors. If your horse has unaddressed TMJ problems, permanent damage will result and these behaviors may never change.

Adult horses have 12 front teeth called incisors, 12 pre-molars and 12 molars. Stallions and geldings may have an extra 4 teeth that are referred to as canine teeth or fighting teeth. These teeth should not be confused with the wolf teethWolf teeth may be extracted when your horse is young. Especially before he/she is fitted for a bridle and ready for a bit. These teeth can break off in your horse’s gum and cause more problems should you elect not to have them extracted early in life. Additionally, because they have shallow roots and may wiggle, they can cause irritation when riding with a bit.

It is recommended that your horse’s teeth be examined on a routine schedule. Exam types by age are described below

AGE What to look for
Birth Foals should be examined to check for abnormalities
6 months Exam recheck for abnormalities and make sure deciduous (baby) teeth are erupting properly and there are not any retained caps
1 Year Yearlings may experience their first brief floating to remove sharp points
2-5 Years The recommendation is horses of this age have exams done every 6-8 months. This is when their mouths are changing the most and deciduous teeth are shedding and permanent teeth are coming in. Usually quite sharp.
5-15 Years This is when dental exams should be done on an annual basis. Keeping your horse on a routine schedule will help prevent major problems later in his life.
Older horses-  15+ Older horses that already have dental issues may require exams and floating 1-3 times a year. Periodontal disease often becomes the primary concern in older horse. Diseased teeth will need to be extracted. In some cases, the horse’s diet will change to help maintain weight and good health. As the geriatric horse ages, his teeth begin to erupt slower and they eventually run out of reserve crown.
Dr. Jay loves teeth Reviewed by on . Dr Jay loves to do teeth    …..We don’t know why (it’s hard work, it is very physical, often in very hot or very cold weather, horses can be uncooperative), but Dr Jay loves to do teeth    …..We don’t know why (it’s hard work, it is very physical, often in very hot or very cold weather, horses can be uncooperative), but Rating: 0

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