Horse Dentistry

Do Horses need Dentistry?

Horses have evolved to live in a semi-arid extensive grazing environment. Their incisors are designed to nip off the grass and their tongue and cheeks massage the food into the grinding cheek teeth where it is chewed and manipulated into a rope like bolus as the first stage of digestion.

Over the years, we have domesticated the horse and provided them with conditions that are different from their natural environment. Natural selection seldom takes place and breeding programmes do not factor in dentition. As a rule grass fed horse, especially those grazed more extensively, may seldom require dental work (Kohnke BVSc ‘The making of Champions’), but they should be checked regularly. All other horses should have dental checks at least annually.

Some Common Reasons to do Dentistry on Horses.


  • Teeth erupt at the same rate that they are worn, but if there is no opposition for the tooth to wear on, severe imbalances can occur in the teeth configuration.
  • Sharp enamel points on the inside of the lower cheek teeth and the outside of the upper cheek teeth result in discomfort and cheek and tongue lacerations and infections.
  • Young horse shed 24 deciduous or baby teeth between the age of 2 and 5 years of age; just when we are trying to train them! If retained they can cause pain, behavioural problems and weight loss. They can be retained for years after they should have been shed. If the deciduous teeth are not shed at the right time, they can impede the normal eruption of the permanent tooth, often seen as dental cysts (lumps) on the lower jaw.
  • Removal of Wolf Teeth as they interfere with the bit
  • Attendance to genetic problems such as ‘parrot mouth’ and other conditions as a result of dental injuries.removal of hooks and ramps that have developed from unnatural wear to the teeth.

What are Some Signs of my Horse having Dental Problems?


  • Loss of body condition
  • Dropping feed while eating or difficulty in chewing
  • Packing the cheeks with feed
  • Large undigested food particles in the manure.colic
  • Behavioural problems
  • Riding problems e.g turning one way
  • Head tilting
  • Nasal discharges and foul odour.
  • Dental cysts on lower jaw.

The Vet Centre has developed a strong association with Equine Dentist, Claire Murray CEqD. Claire is one of only 3 Equine Dentists in New Zealand certified through the Academy of Equine Dentistry Idaho, USA. Claire trained through the College of Equine Dentistry, Australia.Claire carries an extensive range of equipment to provide full mouth dentistry. At The Vet Centre, we are able to diagnose and in some cases treat some dental issues, but rely on the expertise of Claire who will come to Nelson periodically.

Full Mouth Dentistry.

Full mouth dentistry gives your horse the most thorough dental examination and treatment opportunity. Often simple hand floating is not going to be adequate to restore your horses mouth to its natural state. Power tools have been around for a long time now and in skilled hands are the only equipment to address many issues and be safe at the same time.To perform full mouth dentistry, sedation is required. Firstly it helps the horse relax and remain comfortable during the dental proceedure, and secondly some dental proceedures would be impossible without some analgesia. The head becomes heavy and so this must be supported by a special padded dental halter.

Owner Awareness.

There is a huge differences in the standard of equine dental care delivered by different people. We recommend that you go to the link above to the websites. They are impressive. Through our association with Claire, we believe at The Vet Centre, that we can deliver a the highest standard of equine dental health and well being examination to your horse.
Claire Murray, Equine Dentist Link

horse-teeth3Dental Radiology:

The gross anatomy of the equine head is complex, therefore the normal radiographic anatomy can be challenging for the average equine practitioner. However, with adequate anatomic references, the practitioner can become comfortable with obtain- ing diagnostic images of the equine head and recognizing dental and paradental radiographic signs of pathologic conditions.

With the widespread availability of digital radiography (DR) in equine practices, such as The Vet Centre, the practitioner can more readily learn the correct positioning for the various projections of the equine head that are used to evaluate the dentition and sinuses.

Digital systems provide rapid processing of the image, enabling the practitioner to correct positioning errors and retake the image without significant delay.