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Horse health dependent on equine dentistry, selection of proper dental care professional

It takes specialized equipment and performing a thorough examination of the inside of the horse’s mouth to determine if its mouth is healthy, according to two veterinarians specializing in equine dentistry. 

Lynn Caldwell, DVM of Silverton Equine in Silverton, Ore., and Jack Easley, DVM of Easley Equine Dentistry in Kentucky, recently presented a webinar about Equine Dentistry on thehorse.com.

Easley said if a horse has dental issues, it may show outward signs like holding its head to one side when it eats or packing food in its cheeks. It may also have an abnormal smell or foul odor coming from its mouth, show a bloody discharge or have excessive salivation. 

If a horse shows any symptoms of having dental problems, a veterinarian should be called to evaluate the horse. 

Dental exams

“To fully examine the mouth, a veterinarian will use a speculum and a bright light,” Easley explained. 

Typically, they also rinse the horse’s mouth out and may use a dental mirror to see some of the teeth in the back of the mouth. Under no circumstances, Easley said, would he recommend to his clients to stick their hands in the horse’s mouth. 

Instead, Easley recommends smelling the horse’s breath in the morning before they eat. Caldwell added that horse owners can also feed the horse a carrot and see if they can nip at it with their incisors or chew it with their back teeth without any trouble.

When a foal is first born, Easley recommends having a dental checkup performed to make sure the upper and lower jaw match up normally and to check for abnormalities like parrot mouth or an under-shod jaw. Some of these issues can be corrected, he added. 

“If they have a malocclusion, they need dental correction done early in life,” he said. 

Foals should have their teeth examined every six to 12 months, although they won’t need their teeth floated until they are two.

Selecting a dentist

If a horse owner decides to use someone other than a veterinarian for their horse’s dental care, both veterinarians encourage owners to do their homework. 

“I would recommend using someone licensed or educated in equine dental care,” Caldwell said. 

If the horse appears uncomfortable or can’t eat after a dental visit, it isn’t normal, and a veterinarian should be consulted. 

“There is very little evidence as to what is considered adequate dental work for a horse, especially floating,” Easley said. “It is something that is very hard for horse owners to evaluate, and there is not a proper standard in place for what is considered good dental work and what isn’t.”

“However, if someone has done dental work on your horse and it can’t eat for a week afterward, they haven’t done a proper job. Horses should not bleed after having their teeth floated. They shouldn’t bleed at all unless they are having teeth extracted, their wolf teeth removed or some type of surgical procedure,” he explained.

Improper dental work

Caldwell added, “I think some non-veterinarians are tooth carpenters. They treat all horse’s mouths the same, regardless of age, breed or dental problems.”

Some equine dentists overuse or misuse power-tools and end up removing too much tooth structure, Caldwell continued. 

“Power tools should only be used by people with a lot of experience and proper training on how to use them,” she said. “During a dental exam, the horse should not feel pain, and it should be comfortable.”

The veterinarians said the use of power tools have revolutionized equine dental care by shortening dental procedures and, if used properly, making dental procedures much easier on the horse. Caldwell said when she used hand floats, it would take her 45 minutes from start to finish. Using power tools, she can finish a float in 15 to 25 minutes, depending upon the horse. 

Easley said horse owners need to remember that horses were designed to be grazing animals. However, most horses now browse and consume high carbohydrate diets. 

“This affects how the horse masticates, how much time they spend chewing their food and how it wears their teeth. It also changes the microbiology and flora in their mouth. Anything you can do to keep a horse on a more natural diet will help their teeth,” he added.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.