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You can detect many common dental problems by observing your horse. Some behaviors that looks like "quirks" may actually be due to a dental problem!

Does your horse stuff as much grain into his face as possible with each bite, then dribble much of it all over the ground as he chews? Horses whose cheek grinders do no meet properly will chew "grain on grain."

Does your horse act like he's mad at his hay -- butting it with his head or grabbing and shaking it before he eats it? Horses whose teeth hurt them or whose cheek grinders don't meet properly shake hay -- especially alfalfa - to knock the nutritious leaves off. They survive and even fatten by licking up the leaves and small, shattered stems. Of course this wastes more than 50% of the feed you have paid for!

Does your horse spit out wads or balls of stems? Horses whose teeth are missing or who have sore cheeks, gums, or teeth will suck and "gum" hay, swallowing leaves and fine stems but spitting out stem-balls or "quids."

Does your horse's water bucket look like a slime pit? Have you observed him "washing" his hay or even dunking mouthfuls into the water while he chews them? Horses who need a dentist's attention soak hay to soften it before attempting to chew or swallow.

Open your horse's lips and look at the incisor teeth from the front. What does the horse's "smile" look like? Is there a tooth missing? Compare to the pictures provided here. An uneven, upside-down, slanted, or S-shaped "smile" almost certainly means trouble with the cheek grinders too.

Too steep an angle

How does your horse's breath smell? Rotten smells or any smell other than that of sweet, green grass is a sign of trouble. Horses get "tooth cavities" and gum disease which cause bad breath, just like people!

Does your horse's head look the same on both left and right sides? Do the jaw muscles appear to be of the same size on both sides? Does he tip, wring, or toss his head when bitted? Uneven development of bones or muscles often means uneven wear on the teeth inside the mouth. Unsteady on the bit may also mean trouble.

Look at your horse's front teeth from the side. Do you see overshot or undershot teeth? In the older horse, do the lower teeth constantly show when bitted and ridden? Overshot and undershot horses can often be helped by a competent equine dentist. In the older horse, the teeth grow out from the jaws at a more horizontal angle, but should not be allowed to become too long.

Dental problems
Equine dental problems

Place your hands against your horse's cheecks as in the illustration. Gently press in and upward, pressing the cheek against the teeth inside. Does the horse flinch? Does your horse dislike the cavesson or bosal, or seem exceptionally "grumpy" about having his head handled? These are all signs that the horse has sharp "points" on the teeth.

Do you own a young horse? Between the ages of 2 and 5, your horse is going to erupt about 40 permanent teeth and shed 24 baby teeth or "caps." You can greatly increase your horse's comfort and promote future good dental health by having the equine dentist pull adhering "caps" at the right time.

Do you own an older horse? Barring injury, horses' teeth come to the end of their lives beginning about age 20. Loose, expired teeth are often painful to the horse and may cause him to eat very slowly or to fail to grind food thoroughly, and thus to drop weight and condition.

Back to the Dentistry Index Next

The information and illustrations in this section are kindly provided by the Canadian Equine Dental Consultants and the American Equine Dental Consultants. For further information please visit their website - click here
Canadian Equine Dental Consultants Canadian Equine Dental Consultants
American Equine Dental Consultants
American Equine Dental Consultants