Merck Manual

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Professional Version

Dental Care of Horses


Thomas J. Lane

, BS, DVM, University of Florida, Large Animal Clinical Sciences

Last full review/revision Nov 2014 | Content last modified Jun 2016

Regular dental care is essential for the comfort and longevity of the horse. The upper jaw of the horse is wider than the lower jaw, which results in very efficient crushing of food particles. The chewing surface of the teeth are at an angle of 10–15 degrees to each other. The grinding action of the molar teeth tend to produce sharp points on the outside of the upper molars and on the lingual aspect of the lower molars. Floating to balance the arcade is required for general maintenance of the horse's teeth. Irregularities are most common in the incisor and molar teeth of mature and geriatric horses. The mouth of the horse changes throughout life, but the greatest changes occur from ages 2–5; therefore, semiannual or annual treatment is important. Sharp points and uneven wear can cause problems not initially considered to be tooth related; eg, the horse may be prone to mouth ulcers, choke, gastric ulcers, back pain, or erratic head carriage when the bit is in the mouth. Behavior problems may be a result of long, sharp teeth, an uneven arcade, or abscesses in the teeth or gums. Complete oral examination, including visualization of the premolars and molars, requires sedation, a speculum, and good lighting. Motorized dental instruments and carbide float blades have made equine dental care more precise as well as more comfortable for the horse. Age determination of horses has traditionally been done by examining the incisor arcade. Although not an exact science, it is a useful tool for those with experience. (Also see Dentistry Dentistry .)

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