Image of a horse's teeth.

Dentistry for Horses

Like people, horses can develop dental problems. Also like people, some horses can be stoic in the face of major dental pain while a minor dental issue may compromise the performance of a more sensitive horse. This is why horses need regular exams to maximize their dental health.

Foals start to develop their milk teeth, which are like baby teeth in people, within a few weeks of birth. By the age of 9 months, foals have a complete set of 24 milk teeth. Over five to six years, permanent teeth replace the temporary set.

Signs of Trouble

How do you know your horse is having dental problems? Here are a few signs:

  • Swollen cheeks or lips
  • Sharp points on molars
  • Dropping partially eaten food
  • Weight loss
  • Bad breath
  • Chunks of corn or strings of hay in manure
  • Shift in drinking and eating habits
  • Bumpy jawline
  • Strange sounds while chewing
  • Food getting stuck between teeth
  • Eating very slowly
  • Tooth loss or loose teeth
  • Lack of appetite
  • Holding head in odd position while eating
  • Head shaking
  • One-sided nasal discharge
  • Slobbering
  • Reluctance to take bit
  • Chewing on one side only
  • Poor coat
  • Bad attitude

How Horses Chew

Horses grind their teeth from side to side to chew their food. When a horse has dental problems, this sideways movement becomes uneven, resulting in sharp edges, hooks and uneven wear between the upper and lower jaws. Sharp tooth ridges may cut your horse’s cheeks or tongue. Horses may be unable to chew naturally when denied their natural grazing position, such as when they are forced to eat from hayracks or raised mangers.


An equine dentist can check for ridges and sharp places, and then file these down. This process is called floating. The dental tools used to file sharp edges are called floats. If your horse won’t take a bit, it may be due to lacerations in tender mouth tissues caused by sharp teeth. Floating the teeth should resolve this issue.

Equine Dentistry

Depending on which state you inhabit, the laws may require that you consult an equine veterinarian about your horse’s teeth. In other states, you can go to an equine dentist. However, given that equine dentists don’t have to be certified, standards vary greatly. Some equine veterinarians are dentistry specialists who take continuing education classes to keep up with current best practices. Feel free to check with our office or the International Association of Equine Dentistry for a qualified referral.

Schedule Exams Throughout Your Horse’s Life

Ideally, your horse should have annual dental exams, starting early in life. Foals may have congenital abnormalities that your equine dental health provider can fix if the problems are caught early. Wolf teeth, similar to human wisdom teeth but located nearer to the front of the mouth, should be removed before bit training. Some young horses have difficulty shedding their milk teeth and may need extractions around the age of 4 years. Your horse’s teeth should be floated annually. As your horse ages, an equine dental health provider should check for abscesses, tooth loss, gingivitis and other painful dental problems at least once, and preferably twice, per year.

Ready to get started improving your horse’s dental health? Call us today to schedule an appointment or for more information.


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Read What Our Clients Say

  • "Kath, thank you so much for being Greyson's vet, your gentle hand, compassion and great skill made all the difference for my buddy."
    --Deirdre Dekking, Portland
  • "Dr. Mertens is a very friendly, knowledgeable equine veterinarian (and a friend to the rest of the farmyard, including the chickens!). Always up to date on the latest in equine health, and even though Mertens Mammals is a small clinic giving you the personable experience, Dr. Mertens also has equipment for more advanced diagnostics and procedures!"
    —Ari Gordon, Boring
  • "I have been a client of Mertens Mammals for 10 years. Kath (Dr. Mertens) is the most kind, thoughtful and caring Vet I have ever had for my animals. I have 3 horses: my Appy "Breeze" who turns 30 this year, my Paint " Rocket " 14 and my other Paint "Fergie " 3 are all under Kath's care. I also had a dog "Cowboy" who I lost to cancer last July. Kath took care of him also. Dr.Mertens came out on Mother's Day about 7 years ago to treat Breeze for a cut above her right eye. After a few weeks of recovery we were happy to not have a huge scar. Kath also spent 2 hours with me 3 years ago when Rocket had a small case of colic. (Thank God). I couldn't ask for a better person to take care of my girls. Kath always calls to check in on the patients. When people ask who I use for my veterinary needs for my horses, I'm always proud to refer them to Mertens Mammals. I am so thankful for an honest and caring Vet. Thank you, Kath!"
    --Michelle Schatz, Portland
  • "I got looking at Sassy’s records and it will be 6 years in July when you first met Sassy—I feel so fortunate that you became her vet and have looked after her all these years. You are such a wonderful and caring doc and I know you always have Sassy’s best interests at heart. I also know I can always rely on you to help me or Sassy when needed. Thanks for all you do for both of us—will keep you posted on Sassy.”"
    —Judy Becker, Eagle Creek
  • "My horse, Pester, would have lost her eye had it not been for the great care and dedication by Mertens Mammals. They are truly there for you any time you need them. I could go on and on. Kath Mertens has been so good to us!"
    --Troy and Wendy Mohr, Estacada
  • "She has always been there for us. She is forever in my thoughts as the best vet. She saved our hours old filly from certain death. She knew exactly what to do in an instant after just seconds in seeing her. We are forever in your debt...thank you!"
    Barbara T.
  • "Thank you Dr Mertens for such a thoughtful and careful job with our sweet Daisy the Donkey this morning! She is well on her way to health again after that abscess!"
    Suzi C.