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Department of Animal Science, University of Connecticut

Effective Horse Management - Third in the Horse Health Series

Basic Dental Care and How to Detect Trouble


By Dr. Jenifer Nadeau, Equine Extension Specialist

University of Connecticut


When was the last time you had your horse�s teeth checked?If you�re like most horse owners, you may not be aware that all horses should receive a complete dental exam at least yearly starting from their first year of life.By the time most horse owners recognize that a horse is having trouble eating or is losing weight, that horse�s teeth may be severely abnormal.

Equine dentists or equine veterinarians that perform dentistry (we will use equine dentists for the rest of the article) have to look for different situations in the horse�s mouth at different stages of the horse�s life.The following table lists situations that are most common at these stages.

Age of horse

Will be evaluated for

Birth � 18 months

(should be examined at least once a year)

Defects that the horse may have been born with related to head symmetry or chewing function


Proper eruption of teeth


Incisor (front teeth) alignment


Sharp enamel points on teeth


Improper position and number of teeth


Abnormal wear

18-52 months

(should be examined twice a year)

Eruption cysts in the gums over permanent teeth


Gingivitis (inflammation of gums)


Periodontal disease


Loose or infected caps or cap slivers (cap=remnant of crown of deciduous tooth after roots has been resorbed)


Sharp enamel points on the premolar, molar, and wolf teeth (these are the first upper premolars that are vestigial (not fully functional or formed)


Unequal eruption of permanent incisors


Wolf teeth interference with bit


Rounding of edges of front cheek teeth (first premolar) to keep bitting comfortable

4-10 years

(should be examined once a year)

Contact and balance of bite surface


Sharp enamel points on cheek teeth


Sharpedges of cheek teeth which interfere with the bit


Jaw balance


Symmetry, contact, length and balance of incisors

10-18 years

(should be examined once a year)

Abnormalities of wear that can lead to abnormal crown wear, crown fracture and periodontal disease


�Wave� mouth due to abnormalities of wear on central molars making teeth look wave-like


Sharp enamel points on teeth that may require extensive correction (hooks,* ramps**, or beaks***)


Balance of tooth alignment


Length of canine teeth if needed

18 and older

(may need frequent oral exams and dental maintenance to keep mouths healthy)

Periodontal disease (60-80% incidence)


Tartar accumulation




Tooth loosening


Loss of grinding surface of teeth


Abnormalities of wear


Need for geriatric diet


Sharp enamel points on teeth (hooks, ramps or beaks)


Balance between upper and lower jaws

* Hooks = abrupt elevation at rostral or back edge of tooth, involves entire tooth surface

** Ramps = area where dental arcade slopes and exposed crown is taller at one end of tooth than other

*** Beaks = enamel point on back or rostral edge of arcade


These are signs that a horse is having problems with his teeth:


Next you might be wondering how to go about selecting an equine dentist or equine veterinarian that specializes in dentistry.An equine dentist does not have to be certified; therefore, there is no universal standard of quality.You might consider checking to see if the equine dentist is a member of the International Association of Equine Dentistry, an organization of non-veterinary equine dental practitioners that has set certain standards.You may want to check to see if a veterinarian is a member of the American Veterinary Dental Society or has a fellowship in the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry.Additionally, the veterinarian could have take continuing education classes in dentistry offered by the American Association of Equine Practitioners.Word of mouth or referral is another good way to find an equine dentist or veterinarian.

Hopefully this has enhanced your knowledge of equine dentistry and its importance.Please do not attempt to perform dental procedures on your horse, seek an experienced equine dentist or equine veterinarian to undertake this necessary care for your horse.Proper dental care from the beginning of your horse�s life can help eliminate problems before they start.



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Easely J. 1998. Dental care and instrumentation. Veterinary Clinics of North America Equine Practice 14(2): 309-332.

Dixon PM and Dacre I. 2005. A review of equine dental disorders. The Veterinary Journal 169: 165-187.

Moore J. August 1992. Tooth Triumphs and Troubles. Equus 178: 40-44, 77-81.

Scrutchfield WL and Shumacher J. 1993. Examination of the oral cavity and routine dental care. Veterinary Clinics of North America Equine Practice 9(1): 123-131.

Thomas HS. October 2004. Getting to the root of it. Stable Management 26-29.

Tremaine H. 1997. Dental care in horses. In Practice 19(4): 186-199.



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