Common Equine Dental Problems


There are many types of equine dental issue but here are some of the more common ones we encounter

Sharp Edges

During a horse's life its teeth continue to erupt (grow) and wear down from chewing. This cycle can lead to sharp enamel edges, often causing soreness and ulcers on the tongue and cheeks.

We see this extremely commonly in horses of all ages, so it is important that all horses have a dental check and rasp at least every 12 months.


Deciduous (Milk Teeth) problems

Deciduous teeth are very much like a child's 'baby teeth'. There are 12 incisors (front teeth) and 12 premolars or 'caps' (cheek teeth) which are deciduous as a foal, and start falling out from around 2.5 years old.  

Although deciduous teeth usually fall out without incidence, the process can sometimes cause discomfort or other issues, so it is important to have a dental check on your young horses just as much as your older ones. 


Wolf Teeth

Wolf teeth are 'vestigial' which simply means they are a very small remnant of something that was once greater or more noticeable, in evolutionary terms.

Most often they are short, crowned, and have a root that can be two to three times the length of the crown.

Quite often these tiny teeth are removed as they may interfere with the bit seating.   

Extracting a tooth from a younger horse is easier than in more mature animals.   With age the tooth will harden in the socket and literally glue itself to the jaw bone.

You may also find un-erupted wolf teeth called blind wolf teeth.  In this state they can be very problematic and we nearly always extract them.



Hooks are very common and develop due to a misalignment of the molar arcades.

This sort of problem is common in all herbivores as any part of the tooth not contacting the opposing tooth will not suffer the same wear.

Initially the problem may not be seen as too serious but as the hooks develop they can restrict movement of the mandible, and be very uncomfortable.

Hooks are easy to treat if found early, however if they are left to grow they may have to be taken down in several stages. 


Ramped Molars

Being similar to hooks, the ramped molar has a less severe slope.  It is mainly found on the first  upper cheek tooth or the last lower cheek tooth.

It is known for the bit to trap the soft tissue between the first lower cheek tooth and bit.  This can cause minor damage to the skin and may show itself more when trying to bit the horse or when ridden.

A more long term problem can be the restricted anterior and posterior movement of the mandible.   This is particularly important for the ridden horse.


Excessive Transverse Ridges

The transverse ridges are small grid like ridges that are found on the face of the molars.

It is common for these ridges to increase in depth over time so they need to be ground down.

If the transverse ridges develop too much they create a catch which means the horse has to open its mouth wider so it can get the lateral and anterior/posterior movement it needs in the mandible/jaw.




A step occurs when the crown of one of the teeth is longer than the others in the arcade.

Usually this occurs when teeth are missing or there is an impacted cheek tooth.

A step can create restriction of both lateral and anterior/posterior movement of the jaw, hence the need to make regular checkups and realign where necessary.


Shear Mouth

One of the more serious dental problems, Shear mouth simply doesn't get better without treatment.

Due to increased table angles through poor mastication and serious dental conditions, Shear mouth needs to be trated immediately and may need multiple treatments to resolve.



Wave mouth

Easy to spot, the line of the molar arcades looks like rolling hills with high and low points along its line. The problem will have occurred over a long period of time and generally involves poor dental care as a youngster with probable impacted molars or late eruptions or retained caps.

Treating this problem is easier earlier on, but in older horses it becomes a case of management.



Decayed Teeth

As in humans a horses teeth are vulnerable to decay. This can be caused by abnormal wear, trauma, old age and even a poor diet.

Infections can lead to secondary health issues whilst an infection in the upper cheek teeth could lead to infected sinuses.



Ventral Curvature also known as the Smile

The way to see this particular problem is when looking head on. The incisors curve upwards on both sides, which is why it is referred to as a Smile.

What is happening is the lower corner incisors are too long and the same goes for the lower middle incisors.

As the horse uses its jaw the incisors force the cheek teeth apart too early. This forcing restricts the lateral movement and normal grinding motion of the cheek teeth.

Normal treatment would be to float the teeth with either electric or hand tools but be aware that it may take more than one session to correct more severe cases.


Dorsal Curvature also known as the Frown

As with the Ventral curvature this problem stems from upper corner incisors are too long as are the lower mid incisors forming a frown like shape.

Treatment will be the same as with the Ventral curvature.



Offset or slant

Looking from the front you will usually see a perfectly flat joining between upper and lower incisors.

With slant mouth there will be a clear slanting in one direction or another. This is caused by teeth being longer on on one side compared to the other.

Depending on the amount of work needed it may be you would need sedation as you often find that there is also quite bad cheek teeth problems as well.



Missing tooth

Opposing teeth wear each other down as they continually erupt so having a missing tooth can be a serious issue in horses. Without an opposing tooth, the lone tooth will erupt into the space. All sorts of problems can arise from this with locking infection becoming worse as the erupting tooth grows.

If this is the case with your horse it will need regular treatment to keep control of the length of the erupting tooth.




Parrot mouth is the common term used for this dental problem. The upper incisors stick too far forwards relative to the lower ones.

There may also be associated problems with hooks. Commonly we can reduce the incisors with corrective floating, helping to restore the anterior/posterior movement for the jaw. It also reduces the pressure felt on the temporomandibular joint.




Underbite or Sow mouth is pretty rare. Like with Parrot mouth the incisors protrude but this time it is the lower incisors that are sticking too far out.

Regular maintenance is needed for this to keep it under control.




Written by undefined at 02/12/2013 12:27:56


Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions about our services

Email:   Telephone: 01737 246109

Leisure horses | Sport horsesStud farms