Pet Health: Horse Dental Care

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Sedating the animal is advised when providing a horse with dental care.

Dear Andrea:

We recently obtained a pony and we’re curious about why his teeth need care and how often we should have horse dental care done?

Dave Arbor
Louisville, Kentucky

Dear Dave,

Horses and ponies chew and grind their teeth in such a way (side to side) that wears down the edges of their molars, making them extremely sharp. The edges, or “points,” are worse on the cheek or outer edges of the top molars and on the inner or tongue edges of the lower molars.

The points often cut the cheek or tongue, cause sloppy eating, and even worse, may lead to weight loss or indigestion. Ponies with bad points on their teeth take a mouthful of grass or grain, chew with very exaggerated motion, and drop half-chewed food out of their mouth. Some horses and ponies with this problem will avoid the bit or constantly “play with the bit” if bridled. These sharp teeth may cause oral ulceration.

The points can be filed down with an instrument known as a “float,” a special tooth file that is on the end of a long handle. Ponies need to be sedated and properly restrained in order to float their teeth. Many veterinarians will use a device known as a mouth speculum to keep the horse’s mouth open, and then they will visualize or actually feel the teeth as they file the points. Other veterinarians hold the horse’s tongue off to one side of the mouth (toward the halter) to open the mouth while the teeth are being filed. The process of filing or floating horse teeth makes a severe grating sound as the points are abraded. Extra care must be taken to avoid abrading the gums, tongue, or gingiva as you float the teeth.

The frequency of having this procedure done is determined by the severity (if any) of the horse’s malocclusion (how well the upper and lower jaws and teeth meet) as well as the horse’s chewing movements. Most ponies and horses need to have their teeth examined at least two to three times a year. Some horses with severe points may need to have dietary changes prescribed by their veterinarian in order to help reduce oral trauma that occurs from the motions of chewing.