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4 min read

Key takeaways

Dental disease is a common condition in horses, and includes gingivitis, periodontal disease, tooth decay, tooth fractures, and loose or missing teeth.

  • Senior horses are particularly predisposed to developing dental disease
  • Symptoms include dropping feed, bad breath, reduced appetite, and weight loss
  • Diagnosis involves physical and oral examination
  • Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the dental disease, but may include dental flotation, antibiotics, thorough cleaning of the mouth, and removal of affected teeth
  • Dental disease is typically progressive with no definitive cure, but most horses can be successfully managed to have a good quality of life free of oral pain
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A closer look: Dental Disease in Horses

Many of the potential predisposing factors for dental disease can also result from dental disease, including loose or missing teeth, fractured teeth, and abnormal dental wear. Determining which condition occurred first is often not possible. For these reasons, dental disease is often considered progressive, as changes in oral health increases the risk of developing dental disease elsewhere in the mouth.

Risk factors

For under saddle horses, dental disease can cause pain while the horse is bridled.

In some cases, dental disease can lead to tooth root abscesses.

Dental disease is common in horses, particularly in older and senior horses whose teeth are reaching the end of their lifespan. These horses are more likely to develop gaps or pockets between their teeth that collect feed and bacteria, increasing their risk of dental disease. Horses showing symptoms of dental disease require prompt veterinary examination, as significant weight loss can occur due to the pain associated with eating.

Possible causes

Dental disease in horses is typically the result of abnormal dental wear, resulting in spaces or gaps between the teeth that can accumulate feed material. The feed stuck in these gaps rapidly ferments and grows bacteria, resulting in damage to the tooth, the ligaments holding the tooth in place, and the gums surrounding the tooth.

Main symptoms

Symptoms of dental disease are often related to pain during chewing.

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnosis of dental disease primarily relies on a physical examination and oral examination. Horses require sedation for a thorough evaluation of the mouth. Other diagnostics may include:

  • Bloodwork
  • Diagnostic imaging, including skull X-rays

Steps to Recovery

Treatment typically involves managing the underlying condition, and removing any severely affected teeth. Treatments include:

  • Dental flotation: a procedure to reshape the teeth
  • Removal of packed in feed material
  • Antibacterial rinses of the mouth
  • Antibiotic treatment
  • Extraction of affected teeth
  • Changing the diet to improve feed intake
  • Increasing forage in the diet to improve tooth wearing

Dental disease is generally considered progressive, with no definitive cure. Through management and regular dental examination, most horses can have a good quality of life without oral pain. Due to the progressive nature of dental disease, affected horses often require more dental examinations than the average horse. Frequent visits are recommended to identify any new oral problems early, allowing for more effective treatment.


The risk of dental disease can be reduced by routine oral examination by a veterinarian to identify any abnormalities or predisposing risk factors early. Horses require an oral examination at least once per year, unless otherwise recommended by a veterinarian.

Dental disease is not contagious.

Is Dental Disease in Horses common?

Dental disease is common in horses, particularly in older or senior horses who are beginning to lose their teeth.

Typical Treatment

  • Dental flotation
  • Antibiotics
  • Removal of affected teeth


Multiple Authors - Writing for The Horse
Les Sellnow - Writing for The Horse
Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc - Writing for The Horse

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