A Dental Exam You Can Do
By Eleanor Blazer

        Healthy, mature horses have to go to the dentist too!

         Or, at least have the dentist come to them.

         Is it annual checkup time for your horse…Is he flossing?

         Horses younger than five years of age, seniors or horses with a history of dental problems should be examined twice a year. Use this simple check list to detect potential problems between visits.

        1. Watch your horse eat.  Does he drop grain or tilt his head to the side while chewing?  Does he dunk his hay in the water?  Such behaviors are signs of potential problems.

        2. Stand in front of your horse (with him restrained) and compare one side of his head to the other.  Be careful he doesn't throw his head and hit you. You are checking for symmetry (one side balanced with the other).  Make a note of any swellings or indentations that are on one side, but not the other.

        3. Use your finger tips and palpate gently around the temporalis muscle (located above each eye) and masseter (large muscle covering the jaw). Compare muscles for similar size and note any soreness.  If the muscles are more developed on one side, this may be a sign that your horse prefers to chew on that side.
Click Here For Picture.

        4. Check the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) for a pain.  It's located below the ear; where the lower jaw is "hinged".

        5. Check the parotid salivary gland and lymph nodes for inflammation and swelling.  The parotid salivary gland is located in the throatlatch area. The lymph nodes are located under the jaw and usually associated with the familiar swelling that occurs with strangles. (
See picture.)

        6.  While examining the under jaw, make note of any hard swellings or soreness.

        7. Place your fingers on either side of the cheek about where the back teeth start.   Gently feel along the side of his jaw.  See if you can feel the top and bottom row of molars. Go down the top row...gently palpating...note any soreness. Repeat the exam on the bottom row of teeth.

        8. Observe the eyes and nostrils for unusual discharge or swelling.

        9. Lift the lips and note the color of the gums.  They should be a nice healthy pink. 
        10. Inspect the incisors.  Note how many are present and the alignment.  By the age of five there should be six permanent incisors, top and bottom, for a total of 12.

        11.  Smell your horse's breath.  It should be pleasant enough…no foul or excessively strong odor.

       12. Try to inspect the cheek teeth (molars).  The best way to see the molars is to gently grasp the tongue, pull it out so you get a good look in.  To move the tongue, insert your fingers at the corner of the horse's mouth - where the interdental gap (the bars) is located.  Grasp the tongue.  Gently pull the tongue out and to the side.  Now you should be able to look inside the mouth.  If you have trouble, ask your veterinarian or equine dentist for assistance.  To view a video, please visit:

        Look for hooks, missing teeth, feed packed between the molars and cheek, and inflammation.

        Call your veterinarian or equine dentist if you find discomfort or anything questionable. 

        We all hate a visit with the dentist, but putting it off will make it worse.

        Proper nutrition and management practices can prevent many problems associated with caring for horses.  You can learn how to provide your horse with a better life-style by taking the online course "How to Feed for Maximum Performance" taught by Eleanor Richards Blazer.

Learning About Horses
Contact Us