We do dentistry to keep your horse pain-free and living longer. Dentistry must be done periodically, and good dental health is vital to your horse's overall well-being. Dentistry is the single most important veterinary service contributing to your horse's increased longevity, long-term comfort, and prolonged athletic performance.

Why Do We Do It?

As it is with humans and other mammals, oral health cannot be separated from the health of the rest of the body. Years ago, it was not uncommon for people to lose their teeth by their middle age. That changed as we learned more about medicine and health, developed fluoride, healthier lifestyles, and sought regular dental care. The fact is that dental disease is almost entirely preventable in all species. Horses are the same, and they need professional veterinary dental care.

Who Can Do Dentistry?

Dental health must be addressed by a licensed veterinarian. In many states, it is illegal for non-veterinarians to perform any equine dental procedures. In some states, there are exceptions. Virginia laymen are allowed to "hand float" only. It is illegal for any layman individual to administer any sedation. And they may not use motorized equipment and not extract any teeth unless under the direct and immediate supervision of a veterinarian.

If your lay dentist is sedating your horse, extracting any teeth, or using power equipment without a veterinarian present, they are knowingly breaking the law. Your horse is at immediate great risk of short- and long-term harm. Also, you should seriously question the integrity and core values of a person who willingly operates in this manner and deceives you to make a few dollars. Likewise, while a veterinarian may be present sedating your horse for a layman, don't be misguided by their presence as an endorsement of the work being performed. Most sedating-only vets have little interest in veterinary dentistry (or else they would be doing the work themselves) so don't expect that their attendance guarantees the work done by the layman.

Having your horse seen by a non-veterinarian year-after-after is exactly like a person seeing a dental hygienist year-after-year without ever seeing a dentist. The concept of a hygienist being your sole dental care provider is inconceivable--but some very caring horse owners don't realize that they are doing the same.

How Do I Know It's Time For A Dental Exam (and not a float)?

It's simple--nearly every time a veterinarian performs a thorough general exam on your horse, your horse's mouth should be checked. And the examination results will help determine the proper interval for floating/dentistry for that specific horse. In other words, a dental exam and thoughtful owner interview are now the ways to determine when your horse needs a float--not the calendar, not just because it has been 6 months or a year, not a postcard, not a call from a pushy receptionist. Just like the recent changes to deworming and parasite control, we are performing these services based on what is needed by the patient.

But certainly, this is what you should look out for:

  1. Harder Keeper: trouble maintaining weight, eats slowly, drops feed or grass balls
  2. Performance Issues: head shaking, fussy on the bit, fighting/resisting the bit, no rider control, misbehaving or underperforming

Remember that you must also have the exam. Just because your horse doesn't exhibit these signs, doesn't mean that your horse is without needs. Some dental diseases are slow to show signs, and once the signs show (like a rotten tooth), it is too late for a less invasive intervention. And early intervention is what you are missing by not having a veterinarian perform or directly oversee your horse's dental work.

What Happens if I Don't Do Regular Dentistry?

Your horse will not thrive or perform well for long. And maybe not immediately, but your horse will die from complications associated with poor dental care or long-term unqualified dental care. Easily attributable to bad teeth are choke, colic (impactions of middle-aged horse and "down and can't get up" impactions of older horse), gastric ulcers, weight loss, failure to thrive, and starvation.

It is no longer acceptable to have an old, thin horse. And there are very few exceptions of horses of any age needing to be skinny.

What Does Veterinary Dental Care Cost?

TEVA's dental package usually includes a brief physical exam, oral exam, appropriate sedative and the dental float. At TEVA, there are no extra fees for hooks, ramps, canines, incisors, bit seats--they have always been included at TEVA. We offer discounts for larger groups of horses as well as eliminating the scheduling hassles of arranging for the layman and a sedating vet. We have found that the combined cost of a layman tech and sedating vet far exceed our bundle fee; and it's much easier to schedule with just one phone call.


You do so many great things for your horse, and you usually go the extra mile to provide the best feed, training and countless comforts to your horse. As one of Northern Virginia's leading veterinary dentists, I strongly recommend that you consider your horse's dental care needs and readdress them as needed. Veterinary equine dentistry is changing for the better, and you may need to change too.

Check out our website for further learning about dentistry like anatomy, teeth eruption, and abnormalities: https://www.totalequinevets.com/equine-services/menu-services/menu-column-1/dentistry

Our online store offers dentistry services for even less $$, check it out at https://www.totalequinevets.com/online-store

Registered March 2020
Author: Jay Joyce, DVM

Information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for evaluation by an equine professional. In particular, all horse owners should seek advice and treatment from a licensed veterinarian, such as TEVA, for their horses' medical care.

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