Open Wide: Dental Care for Horses

Curly having her teeth done

You’ve heard the expression, long in the tooth? That refers to the fact that horse’s teeth continue to grow, or rather, erupt out of their jaws as they age. Horses have about four inches of tooth crown below

Freedom's teeth
Freedom’s front teeth are in surprisingly good shape for a 22 year old cribber. Some of his back teeth are quite worn, though..

the surface of their gums,  called the body or reserve crown. Just as well, as a horse averages 40,000 chews per day and the circular chewing motion grinds away their teeth. Typically, the new crown replaces the worn teeth at a rate of 0.11-0.16″ (3-4mm) per year, which is enough tooth to last about 25 years.

Zelda having her teeth floated
The vet checking Zelda for any sharp points.

Horses typically grind their food, chewing in a circular motion with y sharp the lower jaw sliding along the upper teeth. To chew effectively, the surfaces of the teeth must have enamel-to-enamel contact. As a horse moves his jaw through a roughly triangular chewing pattern, he might not use the entire occlusal surface during the grinding stroke. This causes the outside edges of the upper teeth and the insides edges of the lower teeth to become sharp. The hard enamel in those areas is not being worn away as fast as the rest of the surface, leaving “hooks” or sharp points. That’s where equine dentistry comes in.

Older horses are particularly prone to problems with their teeth, as they may have excessive wear (especially cribbers), gum disease or loose teeth. Freedom is 22 and a cribber; Curly is 26 and has a tendence to choke. For them, dental care is a must because abnormal wear patterns limit chewing efficiency

The vet uses power tools
With the speculum keeping the horse’s mouth open, the vet is able to use power tools to get rid of any sharp hooks or points.

It’s hard enough for humans to stay relaxed and keep their mouths open at the dentist. Horses have better drugs (if you are using a vet to care for their teeth) and a speculum to keep their mouths open. For years I’ve used equine dentists who are not vets (they typically use manual rasps or floats) and do not sedate. Given the special needs of our older friends, we decided to have our vet do it this year — power tools all the way! Note: the term floating for rasping a horse’s teeth, is a term borrowed from masonry where floating describes the leveling of a row of bricks.

All three horses came through in good shape, although Curly was pretty woozy from the sedation. None of them had any problems with their teeth. In fact, with the power tools, the whole thing took practically no time at all. Wish it was that quick when I visit the dentist.

One thought on “Open Wide: Dental Care for Horses

  1. We have Raven sedated when he’s floated. It gives us a chance to give his sheath a good cleaning (although I will admit he’s usually pretty good about letting Sue remove beans. He will NOT allow me to do it.) I always stick around afterwards until he comes out of sedation. He snores while standing…

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