Equine Dentistry

Helping You to Help Your Horse

Equine Dentistry FAQs

horse teeth

What is floating?
Floating is the removal of sharp points from teeth and the restoration of maximum surface to surface contact through rasping. In Natural Balance Dentistry, a very specific paradigm is followed to achieve maximum bio mechanical function. Adjustments are done with the use of hand instruments only.

What is a normal anatomy?
Horses have twelve cheek teeth on each side, also known as premolars and molars. They have twelve incisors at the very front of their mouth. Between these sets of teeth is the interdental space. This is an area of gum where the bit lies. Male horses over the age of four have canine teeth in this area and many horses have wolf teeth in this area. Canine teeth are normal and rarely pose any problem. Wolf teeth  are vestigal premolars that serve no function, and are typically removed.

What Are Common Problems Seen in Horse’s Mouths?
The most common dental problem is sharp points along the inside, or lingual edge of the lower teeth and along the outside, or buckle edge, of the upper teeth. Throughout its life, a horse's premolars and molars continually erupt. As the teeth emerge, they are slowly ground away in the natural course of  chewing. Because the lower jaw is narrower than the upper, this typically results in an uneven wear.
The points that develop from uneven wear rub and irritate the soft tissues of the mouth and contribute to discomfort.
When horses have malocclusions, or teeth that do not line up properly, there is no opposing surface to naturally wear the tooth down. This results in hooks, ramps or even a tooth growing so long as to protrude into the opposite gum.

Two other common problems are wave mouth and step mouth. These problems arise from teeth that erupt abnormally, broken teeth, or chronic uneven wear of teeth. We see these cases a lot in older horses. Sometimes the entire row of premolars and molars has an abnormal contour preventing the horse from chewing normally and causing jaw pain. As the teeth continually erupt, the problem compounds over time.

Other problems include retained caps which are usually shed in horses between the ages of 2 years and 4 years, broken teeth, infected teeth, and missing teeth.

By floating teeth dentists can remove the sharp points, level hooks and ramps, and reshape the contours of the premolar and molar arcades.

Are power tools dangerous to horses?
There are a variety of power tools often used to float teeth. The view of having a naturally balanced mouth is that these aggressive methods of reshaping the pathology are excessive, stressful and unnecessary. Their use can be counter productive, and can mask the real underlying problems.

Does my horse need sedation?
Typically in equine dentistry, the horse is heavily sedated and given pain killers. Phil’s minimalist approach along with his focus on comfort, concern and trust building, renders the use of sedatives largely unnecessary. This is of great benefit not only to the horse’s system, but in considering treatment timing with regards to showing or events. In certain cases where it is vital to the safety of all, a veterinarian or the owner may administer light sedation.

How is my horse's mouth kept open?
To work on the teeth, the mouth is kept open with a "Speculum". In a low stress, gentle manner, the speculum is fitted into the mouth much like a bit would be.

How often should I have my horses teeth floated?
This depends on your horses age, feed, anatomy, and job. In general a good rule of thumb is to have a yearly exam. Some performance horses with busy travel schedules need six month checks, while back yard pasture horses my go two years without needing adjustments. Each horse is an individual, and Phil considers the whole horse and all of its environmental factors in developing a maintenance plan.

jumping horse


Does my horse need to be floated right now?
Classic signs of dental problems or mouth pain include:

  • Dropping grain while eating
  • Tilting of head while eating
  • Resentment to bit head tossing, shaking, tongue lolling
  • Weight loss or poor hair coat   
  • Drooling
  • Bad breath
  • A decline in performance resists stopping, turning




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