All horse owners have heard old timer’s say, “No feet, No horse!” Well think about this…No Teeth, No Horse!

Horses must eat to survive. They are continuous grazers and usually eat 16-18 hours daily when hay or pasture is available. Horses, more than any other large domestic animal, have difficulties with their teeth. So therefore it stands to reason that dental care for the horse should be a priority.

The lips are first to encounter food. Their sensitivity aid in apprehension of feed. As food is introduced in to the mouth, the incisors (front teeth) cut the grass at the base. Moving further in to the mouth, the food will be chewed by grinding. This action occurs when the mandible (lower jaw) moves in a side-to- side action, not up and down. This lateral grinding movement of the lower jaw against the upper jaw develops chisel-sharp surfaces (made of enamel; commonly referred to as sharp points) that can cause damage to the soft tissues of the mouth. The inner edges of the lower teeth can injure the tongue, and the outer edges of the upper teeth can lacerate the cheek. Consequently, it is sometimes necessary to file the sharp edges of the cheek teeth (consisting of pre-molars and molars). This process is termed “floating the teeth.” So it makes sense then that if dental care starts early in the horse’s life his overall well being and health will benefit.

Adult male horses have up to 44 permanent teeth and a mare might have between 36 to 40 permanent teeth. Horse’s teeth will erupt within a few days after birth. By age five, most horses will have their full set of permanent teeth. (More details can be found at our website They are born with teeth that are up to 3 ½ inches long. These teeth erupt and wear, thus getting shorter and shorter over the course of the horses life. So how early do dental exams need to start? Common practice is to exam horses at 6 months of age. Early exams and care will aid in preventing future problems. It’s recommended that yearly checkups and exams be scheduled to maintain dental health for your horse.

Here are several ways to improve the health of your horse’s teeth.
Due to design, the lower jaw moves forward when the horse’s head is lowered so the teeth are in better alignment when the head is down. (See fig. 1: a and b.) The lower normally falls backward when the head is raised (A) and falls forward when the head is lowered (B).

  • Offer grass; more pasture access. A natural food source. The horse’s range of motion (lateral movement) is greatest on grass so his teeth will develop sharp enamel points less rapidly.
  • Offer hay in slow feeding nets; allows for more hours of eating. See Fig 2 and 3.

Some signs that a horse needs dental attention follow.

  1. Change in chewing habit The horse may hold its head to one side. You may observe “quidding”… food is rolled into balls rather than chewed and then dropped on the ground or left in the feeder. This mostly occurs with the older horse.
  2. Excess salivation.
  3. Blood in the saliv
  4. Bad breath (halitosis).
  5. Swelling of the face or ja
  6. Loss of condition.

It is important to resolve dental problems early. Waiting too long might increase the necessary treatment or might even make remedy impossible. If a horse starts to behave abnormally, dental problems should be considered. A few more indications of problems may include head tilting or tossing; bit chewing, tongue lolling, fighting the bit, or resisting the bridle; bucking or failing to stop or turn. All can be noticeable signs of mouth discomfort. And sometimes a few horses simply adjust to the discomfort and show no signs of dental problems. Therefore, for this reason have your veterinarian thoroughly examine your horse’s teeth at least once a year.

Oral and dental health is where it all begins. Healthy teeth…improves consumption…maintains nutrition…leads to an overall healthy and more comfortable horse.

Again, No Teeth, No Horse….makes sense!

Download newsletter Feb 2015