What You Need to Know About Your Horse’s Teeth

Owners often report that their horses relax and perform better after corrective dental procedures.

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Horse owners and veterinarians sometimes downplay dental problems. This may be, in part, because it is not unusual to see horses with apparently significant dental issues (very sharp enamel points and cheek lacerations, for example) perform and eat fine. Some owners might then conclude that tooth problems are just not important. However, these same owners often report that their horses relax and perform better after corrective dental procedures.

Signs of Dental Problems

Traditionally recognized signs that your horse might have dental problems include eating slowly, slobbering, head-tilting, quidding (leaving behind cigarlike wads of grass or hay), dunking hay in water, passing long fibers in manure, and weight loss. It is important to note that a horse might have what appears to be significant dental problems on dental examination, yet show none of these signs.

Dental discomfort can also adversely affect a horse’s performance. Most, but not all, horses with obvious dental problems show signs such as fussing with the bit, head-tossing, bit-chewing, refusing to take a lead or collect, bucking, or subtle performance changes. Other horses with severe dental problems don’t seem to care. On the other hand, some horses with seemingly insignificant problems, such as small enamel points, perform or eat as if they have major dental issues. Thus, it usually saves you money in the long run to have a qualified veterinary professional perform corrective procedures before sending a young horse to a trainer. The training process will progress much smoother and faster if the horse is not experiencing dental discomfort

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Written by:

W. Leon Scrutchfield, DVM, is a Professor Emeritus at Texas A&M University with special interests in equine field service and dentistry.

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