February is Dental Awareness Month
We are again offering a 10% discount on all equine dental procedures done in our heated clinic from January 29 to March 2. Get a jump on spring and get your horse’s teeth in pristine shape. Call early for an appointment! (You can even drop your horse off in the morning and pick him up at the end of the day!)

Early identification and correction of dental problems is essential.

Proper dental care is vital to your horse’s health and well-being. Dental pain and discomfort can cause lack of concentration, which can create performance problems. Improper contact between the teeth can also lead to inefficient chewing, weight loss, bit discomfort, excessive tooth wear, tooth abscesses, and the premature loss of teeth

The Foal’s First Dental Exam

Foals are born with 0–4 incisors, and 0–12 cheek teeth. A foal’s first dental exam should be performed shortly after birth, often during its neonatal exam. This exam can help identify any developmental abnormalities, such as an overbite or wry nose.

Young horses between the ages of 2.5 and 5 years of age shed their 24 deciduous (baby) teeth, and erupt 36-40 permanent teeth, depending on their sex. During this time, their mouths can be in pain, just like a teething human infant. Retained caps and delayed eruption can lead to malocclusions. Early identification and correction of any problems can give the horse a balanced mouth.

The Young Horse

A normal young horse should have his first dental treatment around 18-24 months of age. At this time, a complete oral exam will be performed. Any wolf teeth present will be removed, and the cheek teeth (molars and pre-molars) will be balanced and have the sharp edges floated off. This should always be done prior to bitting and training. Thereafter, dental care for adult horses is performed as needed, usually every 9-18 months, depending on the horse’s age and performance.

A view of the inside of the mouth.

A view of a horse’s back teeth.

Older Horses

Old horses begin to wear their teeth out centrally, leaving large, irregular, sharp enamel points. The lack of normal grinding surface, coupled with points and possibly expired teeth, can lead to poor feed utilization. This will require a dietary change in addition to proper dental care.

The Horse’s Mouth

Unlike human teeth, equine teeth continue to erupt at the rate of approximately 0.25 inch per year. This continued eruption allows horses to eat hay and grass, but also allow for constant change in the molar and incisor arcades. This again can cause malocclusions and misalignments, which can pull the mandible in a posterior direction, “locking” the jaw. This locking makes it difficult or impossible for the horse to flex properly at the poll and can put pressure on the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which can shower the brain with pain sensations via the trigeminal nerve.

Modern Dentistry Techniques

The old way of merely hand floating the sharp points off of the visible cheek teeth leaves half of the mouth unexamined and uncorrected. Equine dentistry in the 21st century has advanced tremendously and allows us to examine, correct, balance and equilibrate the incisors and entire molar arcades, bringing them back to normal.

The use of sedation, a full mouth speculum, proper lighting, dental mirror and intra-oral endoscope, along with specialized motorized instrumentation makes this possible. The addition of digital radiography (X-rays), when needed, allows for identification of tooth root and sinus problems.

Dr. Hoyns’s Experience

Dr. Hoyns has had an abiding interest in equine dentistry for more than 25 years. She has attended numerous dental seminars across the country, from Connecticut to Oregon to Minnesota. She most recently attended the  Advanced Dental Extraction Techniques course at Colorado State University.