Straight From The Horses Mouth – Equine Dentals

You give your horse has a warm stall, the best grain, and regular exercise. Every year you make sure they are up to date on vaccinations. What about your horse’s dental health?

Dental health for horses is not always our top horse care priority. However, maintaining your horse’s teeth and mouth is important. Horses’ teeth grow continually throughout their life. If the teeth are not worn down evenly it can present problems.

In addition, your horse can have jaw and teeth alignment problems just like you can. Malocclusion is when the teeth don’t line up properly such as an overbite. These problems can affect their overall health.

Author’s horse Rocket having a flotation. You can see the speculum fits just like a bridle.

Straight From The Horse’s Mouth

Your horse has evolved as a grazing animal. In that process, they wear down their teeth. Nature has designed a horse’s teeth to continually grow throughout their life.

Horses have two sets of teeth just like we do. The temporary baby teeth usually start to erupt before the foal is born. They are typically done coming in by the age of eight months.

At two years of age, your young horse will start losing their baby teeth and begin to get their permanent teeth. By age five your horse has a full set of thirty-six to forty permanent teeth.

Bridle teeth, also known as canine teeth, occur in the space between the front incisors and the back molars. They are more common in male horses and are thought have evolved when horses would fight over territory and females.

By Pete Markham from Loretto, USA - Equine Dentistry, CC BY-SA 2.0,
Filing down the sharp edges

Keep An Eye On Teething

The following chart from the American Association of Equine Practitioners will give you some guidance on what teeth to expect when.

Deciduous (Baby Teeth)
1st incisors (centrals) Birth or 1st week
2nd incisors (intermediates) 4-6 weeks
3rd incisors (corners) 6-9 months
1st, 2nd, & 3rd premolars (cheek teeth) Birth or first 2 weeks for all premolar
Permanent (Adult Teeth)
1st incisors (centrals) 2 1/2 years
2nd incisors (intermediates) 3 1/2 years
3rd incisors (corners) 4 1/2 years
Canines (bridle) 4-5 years
Wolf teeth (1st premolars) 5-6 months
2nd premolars (1st cheek teeth) 2 1/2 years
3rd premolars (2nd cheek teeth) 3 years
4th premolars (3rd cheek teeth) 4 years
1st molars (4th cheek teeth) 9-12 months
2nd molars (5th cheek teeth) 2 years
3rd molars (6th cheek teeth) 3 1/2 – 4 years

Does My Horse Need a Dental Checkup?

Dr. Nathan Glaza of Licking Valley Veterinary Clinic recommends annual oral evaluations and potential dental treatment for all horses over age five.  After age five a horse may need a dental yearly or every few years. A non-invasive oral exam is part of an annual checkup. Your veterinarian will decide if flotation is needed at that time.

While it is possible to work on your horse’s teeth every year or every 6 months in a younger horse I usually let them get all their teeth before completing dental work.  Sometimes a young horse will have dental problems and need some work but this is not common.

What Are Some Signs Your Horse Needs a Dental Checkup?

  • Loss of weight
  • Horse chews food sideways or looks different while chewing
  • Food falls from mouth while eating
  • Reacting to bit by clamping mouth, tossing head, or fighting the bit
  • Seeming to resist the noseband on a bridle
  • Bad breathe or excessive salivating


Dental maintenance is referred to as flotation. Floating uses carbonate or diamond files to smooth and remove any sharp points, correct malocclusion, and help balance the teeth so that the horse can chew properly. The worst case of sharp points is when the back teeth grow unopposed and can over years dig inches into the horses head causing extreme pain.

Each horse is different. Horses on pasture routinely pick up small pieces of grit and gravel that help wear down teeth. Horses at stables or on the track may not get as much of that natural interaction.

Softer feeds require less chewing and thus less wearing down so the horse’s teeth may become excessively long or wear down at angles.

Work with your vet to determine how often your horse’s teeth need to be floated.

Check out this video to learn what happens during a dental flotation with your veterinarian.

What To Expect

At LVVS we have stocks and a large parking lot.
You can save on a farm call fee by bringing your horse to us for treatment.

At Licking Valley Vet we can perform an equine dental at the farm or at the office.  Our new clinic has stocks that can safely hold your horse.

For Farm visits we need you to be ready with a few things:

  • Have your horse in a stall.
  • Access to clean water and electric to perform the float
  • All horses receiving a dental will be sedated and have a speculum placed in their mouths.  This is not an option as it allows the vet the ability to complete the job well and safely. 

While horses under five often don’t usually need a full dental sometimes we use the power tools near them just to get them used to the sounds.  We may sedate them a bit and put the speculum on to get used to routine care. 

Listen to Dr. Glaza’s podcast on Equine Nutrition

Don’t Do This At Home

YouTube is a great thing. You can learn all kinds of stuff. But taking care of your horse’s teeth at home can lead to disasters. Sometimes your farrier or the horseman next door will offer to file down your horse’s teeth.

Just say NO!

A lot can go wrong when the horse’s teeth are not floated by a trained professional. Ask any vet about the horror stories they have about trying to save a horses teeth after years of bad dental work from farriers or the riding stable manager.

Keep in mind that the vet is the only person that can legally give your horse a sedative. Horses are routinely given a light sedative to keep them safe during their dental maintenance. This is a normal procedure that can only be performed by your veterinarian.

Take Away

Getting your horse dental checkups is a routine part of overall horse care. Making sure your horse can chew properly will lead to better digestion and lower feed bills. Most importantly, your horse will be happy, feel good and respond well under saddle.

Keep in mind, our Online Pharmacy, through Vet’s First Choice, has a full line of horse care products including wormers, conditioning, vitamins, and hoof care.

At LVVS we also do dog and cat dentals. Call us at 859-472- 4141 to schedule an appointment.

Author, Ame Vanorio, is the loving mother of many fur babies and the director of Fox Run Environmental Education Center. She can be found on occasion, helping out with surgeries or hiding in the backroom writing blogs.

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