Looking a gift horse in the mouth... 

During a thorough dental examination, several oral conditions are commonly seen. These conditions can cause discomfort to the horse and result in weight loss and poor performance.

Dental problems in young horses

During the first 4.5 years of life, the young horse will shed all of its 24 teeth and replace them with the secondary, permanent teeth. During this period, it is critical to have your horse's mouth checked regularly to ensure any problems are corrected as soon as possible.

During shedding of the baby teeth, sometimes the whole tooth or part of it is not shed adequately and is "retained". This retained tooth or portion of it can become wedged between the emerging permanent teeth and/or can trap food causing infection and inflammation. Periodontal disease is one potential consequence of retained caps and must be treated early.

According to Dr Oliver Liyou, a veterinarian dental technician, behaviour problems in young horses such as head tossing and reluctance to move forward are possible consequences of retained caps. Other problems that can occur at this age are the presence of wolf teeth, sharp enamel points and mal-eruption of permanent teeth.

Young horses, i.e. 2, 3 and 4 year olds need to have regular check ups, once or twice annually.

Click on the pictures to view in full size

Wolf teeth
Wolf teeth in a young horse

sharp enamel points
Sharp enamel points - occur in horses of all ages

Broodmares, middle-age and old horses

Whether a horse is being actively ridden or not, regular dental checks are essential for the horse's health and wellbeing. Adult animals often present with conditions that differ markedly from those seen in animals under 5 years of age. The pictures illustrate some of these conditions. Generally we see:

  • Slanted incisors (slanted mouth)
  • Accumulation of tartar
  • Moderate to severe wave mouth (waved pre-molars and molars)
  • Moderate to severely elongated teeth
  • Small to long hooks and ramps
  • Periodontal disease
  • Trapped and accumulated feed in gaps (diastema) between teeth
  • Sharp enamel points
  • Severe ulceration of gums
  • Loose and decaying teeth
  • Tongue cuts

Weight loss, bad breath, poorly digested feed (check the particle size in the manure), kidding and behaviour problems are signs that dental disease may be present. Once present, these problems do not just go away - they get worse over time and create a miserable existence for your horse!

Adult horses should have their teeth examined once a year.

pre-molar hook
A large hook on a pre-molar
These make chewing of food difficult and can lead to cheek ulceration

Tongue cuts
Tongue cuts caused by sharp enamel points on the inner edge of the lower cheek teeth

geriatric mouth floated
Geriatric mouth after correction of sharp enamel points

Please contact either branch of Totally Vets if you would like to have your horse's mouth examined by one of our highly qualified and enthusiastic equine vets.