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The Signs Of Dental Problems

November 2019

The early signs of dental problems are very subtle and may not be noticed by owners or carers at all. Very often the horse will not show any outward signs that anything is wrong.

Therefore, when horses eventually show outward signs of dental discomfort, the problem may have been developing for quite some time.

Horse resisting and evading the riders contact due to teeth problemsSigns of dental problems can include:

  • Resistance and evasion to the bit or bridle  
  • Changes in behaviour for example the horse becomes aggressive due to being in pain
  • Change in behaviour when ridden for example head tilting, head tossing, mouth open, irregular head carriage
  • Dangerous ridden behaviour for example rearing, bolting or bucking
  • Facial swellings
  • Inflammation of the gums  
  • facial swellingHeadshaking
  • Depressive behaviour
  • The horse only chews his feed on the same side of his jaw, every time
  • Bad breath (halitosis) often caused by decaying tissue damaged by periodontal disease
  • Long fibre or undigested food in droppings
  • ‘Pouching’ of feed in the cheeks
  • Quidding - dropping partially chewed hay
  • Dropping hard feed
  • Refusing to eat
  • Discharge and / or smell from one or both nostrils
  • Excessive salivation
  • Choke
  • Weight loss
  • Colic

Facial swelling due to infection of an upper cheek tooth

Most of these signs will relate to conditions that have been present for some time, or a more advanced dental problem for example a fractured tooth. Amazingly, many horses show absolutely NO signs of even advanced dental disorders. Regular detailed examinations are very important to identify any developing problem.

Signs related to ridden evasion or resistance can commonly be misinterpreted as bitting or tack issues which then often results in a new bit or tighter noseband.

The first thought should be to check if your horse is in pain.

How bad can it get?

The importance of regular dental checks by a suitably qualified person helps ensure any problems are identified quickly. The case study below highlights the importance of this but also shows how well horses can hide their pain.

Case study: Slightly uneven approaching jumps

A stallion showjumper was reported as being slightly uneven approaching fences on the right rein. The horse was sedated and a dental examination discovered a fractured tooth with rotten food impacted within the gaps and around the tooth.

Case Study 1 A
case study b
case study c
 Picture A
 Picture B
 Picture C


Find out more information

 equine dental technican

The benefits of regular dental checks

 dental check

Information about Dental Checks

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Download the guide

In collaboration with Chris Pearce MRCVS and the team at Equine Dental Clinic Ltd

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