Montesano & Tallarico, D.V.M., LLP

305 Old Willets Path
Smithtown, NY 11787


Routine Dentistry

Horse having teeth looked at

Equine dentistry is an area of special interest at our practice.

Complete oral examinations are important to the health management of the horse and should be performed on a regular basis. Depending on the horse's age, use, expected level of performance, and overall condition of the teeth, examinations might be on a six to twelve month basis.

Horses need regular preventive dental maintenance every six months to one year. Unlike people, horses' teeth have an eruption rate of two-three mm per year. The teeth should wear in correspondence to yearly eruption rate. Malocclusions, or improper position of the teeth, can lead to many health issues and behavioral problems.

Routine maintenance helps to prevent minor problems from becoming serious problems in the future. The result is a healthier horse.

The horse has teeth that are classified as hypsodont.

These teeth erupt throughout the lifetime of the horse at a rate of 2-3 mm per year. Since the maxilla (upper jaw) is wider than the mandible (lower jaw), sharp points develop on the outside of the top row of teeth and the inside of the bottom row of teeth. These sharp points can prevent the horse from chewing in a normal manner (i.e. side to side).  These sharp points can also cause painful ulcerations where they contact the tongue and the cheeks. These points are removed during routine floating procedures by grinding them off with specialized blades.

Identifying dental problems as early as possible is important.

There are several factors that come into play at a young age that might increase treatment needed, or make a remedy even possible: loss of food while eating; eats hay before his grain; grain in water bucket; difficulty chewing or excess salivation; loss of body condition; large undigested food particles in manure larger than one quarter inch; head tilting or tossing; bit chewing; tongue lolling; tries to rear while bridling; fighting the bit or resisting the bridal; bucking or failing to stop or turn; foul odor from the mouth or nostrils; traces of blood in the mouth; or nasal discharge or swelling of the face.

Other horses may not show noticeable signs, because they just simply adapt to their discomfort.

Dental abnormalities are corrected to prevent problems that can arise such as colic, anorexia, weight loss, head tossing, quidding (dropping food while chewing), decreased performance, excess salivation, undigested food particles in the manure, fighting the bit, resisting the bridle, tongue lolling, bit chewing, foul smelling nasal discharge, blood tinged saliva, bucking or failing to stop or turn.

In order to perform a complete oral examination, the horse is sedated and a full mouth speculum is inserted in the mouth so that every tooth can be visualized and palpated. The oral cavity is thoroughly flushed with warm water prior to examination. The examination is performed using a good light source, a dental mirror, and a dental pick. Abnormalities are noted in the horse's medical record(a computerized dental form).

equine dental record example
Common dental procedures performed at our practice:

1. Complete oral examination

2. Floating procedures-Our floating routine involves a combination of power float and manual instruments.

Our power floats are water cooled to prevent heat damage to the teeth.

3. Dental radiographs using digital radiography

4. Wolf tooth extraction

5. Extractions of diseased, loose, infected teeth

6. Removal of retained deciduous teeth (caps)

7. Incisor reduction

8. Occlusal equilibration

drawing of equine


Incisors - Front teeth, just inside the lips, used to grasp, nip and pull grass.

Canines - These teeth are tall, sharp teeth behind the incisors. They are primarily found in the male horse.

Wolf teeth -These are rudimentary(teeth that do not assume normal maturity)teeth found in front of the first large cheek teeth.(Usually the top jaw). They are commonly extracted so as not to interfere with the bit.

Premolars - First three sets of large cheek teeth, top and bottom jaws, used for grinding. There is a full deciduous set followed by a full permanent set.

Molars - Second three sets of large cheek teeth, top and bottom jaws, used for grinding. There are no deciduous molars, they erupt as permanent teeth.

Deciduous - "Baby" teeth. They are replaced by permanent teeth.

Permanent - "Adult" teeth. They are intended to remain for the horse's life.

Arcade - Refers to a row of teeth (i.e. there are four arcades of cheek teeth and two arcades of incisors).

Occlusion - The contact points of opposing teeth; occlusal surface refers to the chewing or biting surfaces.

Malocclusion - Abnormal contact between opposing teeth.

"In Wear" - The point in time when opposing teeth have reached sufficient height above the gum line to grind against one another.

Eruption - The movement of the tooth crown out from the bone of the jaw into the mouth.

Shedding caps - The loss of expired baby teeth as the new permanent teeth erupt to take their place.

Cheek teeth - A general term used to indicate all the grinding teeth, the premolars and molars.

Crown - The portion of the tooth that gradually erupts into the mouth and is used for grinding, not the root.

Mastication - The act of chewing or grinding food.

Cap - Horseman's term for a baby tooth as it sits in place on the permanent tooth ready to erupt.

Floating - The rasping or filing of the sharp enamel points that form on the outside (cheek or buccal) of the upper (maxillary) premolars and molars and the inside (tongue or lingual) of the lower (mandibular) premolars and molars.

Hypsodont - Long tooth

Occlusal equilibration - This term includes "floating" or smoothing enamel points, correcting malocclusion, balancing the dental arcades, and correcting other dental problems.