Nerdettes weblog

Just another view of/by

Horse Dentist visit

To ensure the teeth from a horse wear off properly, equally, it is a good habit to have a denstist check every year. When necessary he can file off sharp edges which hurt the horse while eating.

A bit about horses and teeth

Horseteeth grow and keep on growing, so when used in a wrong way (e.g. the horse does not eat natural food, from the ground, but has to pull hay from a sack), they can become sharp and painful.

Foals do not have many teeth. They start with having 4, and when they get older more start to grow. Just like young babies they like to chew on everything to get rid of that itchy feeling.

Young horses do have milkteeth until the age of 3. These milkteeth are small caps which are pushed off by the real teeth underneath which keep on growing.

After the milkteeth are pushed off the horses teeth will grow about 2mm per year, and they will look different with the years.

Not only the shape of the front teeth from the side, but also if they are filled (new teeth have a hole in them, which will slowly disappear as they wear off).

As seen in the top image, the front teeth are separated from the hind molars by a gap which only contains gum. Normally one would put the bit in this sensitive bit of the horses mouth. Stallions and geldings might have one additional set of teeth in this area (wolf teeth), which might cause some problems when they are too big.

Although wild horses would not really need a dentist, as they feed normally from the ground and eat a lot of tough materials which keep their teeth straight and strong, the domesticated horses eat from buckets, pull hay out of a bag and do not often get the chance to eat hay all day.

How can I see there might be something wrong with the teeth?

The horses might start to act funny, put their heads high when you want to put the bit in, get thin, will not accept the bit …

the coat goes all pointy… they have a strong smelling breath, do not like their heads being touched,

the nose starts to drip or the horse starts to make strange movements with their heads.

It can also become visible by the glands that get swollen between the jaw and the neck.
* Do however note that this can also occur if the horse changes foodtype, e.g. from hay to grass or reverse. They need to produce a lot more of fluids so thats why these glands are a lot bigger.
Main judgement is up to the vet, but if it is painful to touch these places, make sure you call him soon, as it also might indicate an infection which needs immediate treatment!

The dentist at work

What the dentist does when he visitis the stable depends per horse and per situation.

In our situation we had a few horses with sharp ends at the sides (sharp teethsides in the cheek), as well as back teeth that grew too high and peeked into the top jaw.

First of all the dentist checks the condition of the horse, skin, jaws, exterior and muscles, if there are any painful places on the head as well. Then he stands next to the horse, grabs the tongue with one hand, pulls it out (to be kept between the horses teeth so it wont bite) and the other hand goes in the mouth to feel any pointy bits or sore cheeks or tongue.

For the inspection at the far end of the teeth (which is as deep as almost underneath the horses eyes!), the dentist might need a gag. This is a halter with a metal front which is put between the horses teeth and can be locked in a specific position.


If anything is found that needs treatment, the dentist will tell you if he will need the horse to be sedated. In case the dentist will need his electrical tools the horse gets sedated so that it will stand still (and not lay down) during treatment. If the handfile is sufficient and the horse relaxed, no sedation will be nessecary.

To ensure the proper position of the horses’ head while being sedated, it is held up with a sold soft ring mounted through a ring at the door or ceiling. I can tell you that holding up 40kgs or more is rather tiresome! I tend to use my feet to stand on the line on the ground so I have my hands free.

After the sedation is given the vet/dentist works quickly. Our dentist’s equipment is an add-on on a dremel with a footswitch and he wears a headlight with halogen to light up where he is working in the horses’ mouth.

His tool is a modified dremel : a long extension which is covered with secured soft metal on one side and the rotating file on the other side.

The mouth is cleaned with water before he starts taking the edgy, pointy and sharp bits from the hind teeth with the dremel. In this picture you see the pointy bits at the front row of the hind teeth.

Hind teeth are being done.

Here is the end result: The inside and outside pointy bits are filed away, the top bit gets equalized so that the top and bottom teeth nicely slide over eachother, sideways.

Rounding and flattening the front side of the teeth behind the “gap”. This is often done for horses that are ridden with a metal bit. Also the wolf teeth are often taken away, they often are not fully grown and tend to be rather vulnerable for infections.

When the hind bit is done, the front teeth get a closer inspection. A nasty hook is visible at the end of the top row, at both sides.

In this case the front teeth are much longer than the bottom teeth, so they are cut off to the proper length.

The hook gets filed away with a normal dremel set.

as well as the bit that is too long from the front top teeth gets cut away.

Although it looks painful, there are no nerves in the horses teeth, they only feel better after their treatment. The top row is made straight, from the bottom row nothing is touched.

The sharp edges of the front teeth are taken away with the dremel again.

As you can see, the top and bottom teeth do have the same length now, the hook at the end is disappeared as well. This will ensure that the teeth will cause less problems and the horse will be happy again – at least, until the next vet visit.

After the treatment the horse needs to be sheltered from wind, as they are tired and might sweat. The adrenaline they had during the treatment drops and they will need to recover from their short sleep. It is best to wait until the horse is awake before you let him go out of his private box or stand with the others out in the field again.

Aren’t they sweet when they are asleep?

More reading at Wikipedia
or even better here: a vet’s view on horse teeth



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