Ask the Vet: Equine Dentistry

Answered by, Reece Myran, DVM, Pooler, GA
Courtesy of AAEP

Question: My equine dentist somewhat jokingly mentioned my mare should be flossing more. However, I understood his point that horses, as well as humans, get stuff stuck between teeth, which isn’t good. How much of a problem is this, and is there anything an owner can do to help? 

Answer:The horse’s premolars and molars are set up such that they actually function as “1 tooth”—that is, in the normal state, the gaps between those teeth are so tight that even if you tried to floss them, you would be unable! (unlike our human teeth). Where the horse can run into problems is when there is a pathological situation that opens up a gap between these teeth, allowing feed to accumulate. The vast majority of these problems are caused by a mechanical issue / incorrect alignment of the molars/premolars. If left uncorrected, serious periodontal disease can develop, often leading to the necessity of extracting teeth. The best way for you as an owner to stay on top of this is to allow your veterinarian to do yearly examinations of your horse’s mouth. He/she is the person most qualified to recognize a problem and figure out the solution.

Question: I have had my horses’ teeth floated by both manual and mechanical methods. It seems that the mechanical method is more abrasive than manual and as my horses are now entering into their senior years (16 and 18) I am wondering which method would be best. Am I being overly concerned about this?

Answer:The short answer is that I have used both methods extensively, and both ways can be used correctly (or abused for that matter). I would suggest that you allow the veterinarian with dental experience who takes care of your horse’s mouth to use whatever method they feel is the most appropriate for the situation.

Question: I have an 8-year-old Arabian gelding that slobbers his grain still, after being examined by an equine veterinarian dental specialist twice. Any explanations?

Answer:My guess is if your veterinarian has examined your horse twice, there is no pathology in your horse’s mouth.

Even though dropping grain is often cited as a sign of dental disease, I have found that to be very unreliable over the years. My personal opinion is simply that the horse’s mouth is not designed to eat small pellets/grains, and especially if they eat fast, some will fall out of their mouths. The one thing I would suggest is feeding your horse over a rubber mat (or something similar) to keep him from ingesting a bunch of sand/dirt when he picks up what he has slobbered.

Question: My mare just had her teeth floated in February. Now she seems to be chewing some of her hay, coastal or alfalfa, and dropping it. I notice a few of these wads after I have given her flakes of hay. However, the next day, those wads of hay are gone, which means she ate them. What would cause this behavior and is this a teeth issue?

Answer:In a previous answer to a question, I pointed out that dropping of pellets/grain is not, (in my experience), a reliable indicator of dental problems. However, dropping of forage (hay or grass) usually IS a sign of a problem. There are so many possibilities that it probably doesn’t make sense for me to list them all here: my best answer for your situation is the following:

1) I’m suspicious there is something not normal in your horse’s mouth, and

2) have your veterinarian examine her mouth in the near future.