1. Skip to Menu
  2. Skip to Content
  3. Skip to Footer

High Performance Dentistry for High Performing Horses

After years of de-emphasizing equine dentistry, veterinary medicine has realized that we can make a great improvement in health and performance by taking better care of horses’ mouths. As a result, equine dentistry is an area of veterinary medicine that has expanded greatly over the last 15 years. From this has come a greater understanding of how the mouth and bit work, and how to treat the problems and diseases that arise.

Horses’ teeth and the problems that occur with them differ greatly from human dentistry. Normal equine teeth continually erupt, similar to growing, until approximately age 20. At the same time the tooth is wearing away as the horse chews. This constant cycle of eruption and wear results in new grooves constantly being created on the tooth. These grooves act like the grooves on a horseshoer’s rasp and breakdown the food into tiny pieces. The constant creation of new grooves prevents the teeth from becoming dull, similar to a self-sharpening food processor. This allows the horse to be better able to breakdown plant material for digestion. Problems occur, however, when the teeth don’t wear evenly. The most common occurrence of uneven wear is the development of sharp edges on the sides of the teeth. This occurs because the upper teeth sit farther out than the lower teeth. If you feel your own teeth, they are arranged similarly. As a result, the outside edge of the uppers and the inside edge of the lowers don’t wear away as quickly as the rest of the tooth. Grinding one edge of the tooth causes it to become beveled like the edge of a knife which can cut into the cheek and tongue. It is these sharp edges that the veterinarian floats. Floating is simply an archaic term for smoothing or removing rough edges.

The first improvement in today’s dentistry is that we are paying closer attention to the mouth and catching problems earlier. In the past, dentistry was an area that was avoided until a horse was loosing weight or dropping feed. Now it is recommended by the American Association of Equine Practioners that all horses have dentistry performed annually! Younger horses (under 12 years of age) should actually have dentistry performed every 8 months, because their mouths are changing and getting sharp points more rapidly. The second difference we see is the use of tranquilizers. Modern tranquilizers are safe and allow the veterinarian to perform work on the entire mouth, not just the front 2 or 3 teeth. In the past, the back teeth were seldom floated because the large cheek muscles press tight against the teeth. This lack of space made it painful to move the float back and forth in the mouth. Think how uncomfortable most of us are when the dentist is cleaning our back molars. As uncomfortable as that is, we humans have it easier because our cheek muscles are smaller giving the dentist more room to work. The third difference we see in today’s dentistry is the equipment used. There are a number of high tech power instruments that can increase the quality and the comfort of a float. These “power floats” allow the veterinarian to correct problems that hand floats can barely begin to touch. Other equipment such as periodontal units and intra-oral x-ray systems are similar to that used by human dentists. These specialized instruments are being used to treat problems like periodontal and gum disease. Even the use of equipment to hold the mouth open and high power lights make a huge difference in how effective dentistry can be. If the horse is chewing on the instruments or the veterinarian can’t see the back of the mouth it prevents a thorough job from being performed.

The last major difference between dentistry today and years ago, is the realization that it can make a difference in performance. By placing a bit in the horse’s mouth we create a very powerful contact point between horse and rider. The bit and bridle push the tongue and cheek against the sides of the teeth. If there are sharp edges on the sides of the teeth they will cut into the cheek and tongue and cause pain. If applying pressure on the reins transmits pain, our communication with the horse breaks down. Rather than receiving the intended signal, the horse is forced to protect himself or herself by resisting the bit. In addition, if going forward into the bridle causes pain; the horse will be reluctant to engage their hind end. An irritated horse that can’t go forward comfortably is a horse that won’t perform to their full potential. Would Debbie McDonald perform as well if she had a toothache? Would you?

Finally, whether your horse is a high performance show animal or a companion you wish to keep healthy for years, routine dental exams and today’s modern dental techniques can make a big difference in achieving those goals.


Dr. John Marion

Castlewood Canyon Equine - Quality Horse veterinarian Services for Franktown CO, Elizabeth, Parker and the surrounding areas.

1115 Castlewood Canyon Road
Franktown, CO 80116
(303) 660-1492

We have one guest and no members online