Always Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth: Part 2

Like we mentioned in Part 1, horses have long teeth that continuously erupt out of the gums throughout their lifetime.  It’s good that their teeth are constantly “growing” because their natural food source – grasses, hays, and forages – are very fibrous and abrasive, and chewing causes the teeth to wear down.

photo of horse jaw and gum line
Here you can see the portion of molar that is below the gum line. It will eventually make its way to the surface as the teeth wear down.

A horse’s upper molars are slightly father apart than their lower molars.  This leads to uneven wear across the surface of the molars, and can cause sharp ridges or points on the teeth.  These points can be as sharp as razors, and in the very least, will cause your horse discomfort.  At most, the sharp teeth can cut your horse’s cheeks, the teeth could fracture or become infected, or they could even fall out of the jaw.  A horse with poor dental condition may be losing weight due to not being able to comfortably eat.  They may also show signs of discomfort while being handled or ridden, for example head tossing while carrying a bit.  This is why routine dental exams and maintenance are key to horse health.

An average adult horse should have dental maintenance about every two years.  Horse’s with dental abnormalities, like overbites, may require more frequent exams.  A veterinarian or equine dentist will perform a process called “floating.”  This is basically a process of filing down the edges and points of the teeth, and making minor adjustments to the alignment of the teeth.  The procedure is not painful for the horse, but for ease of handling and manipulating the horse’s jaw, it is common to see horses given a sedative.  The purpose of floating teeth is not to make the teeth perfectly flat, as they need some irregular surface to grind up food, but rather to create a fairly level match between upper and lower teeth, without any waves or points.

veterinarian looking inside a horse's mouth while floating teeth
Getting a good look inside a horse’s mouth