An adult male horse has 40 teeth. There are 24 molars or grinders, 12 incisors or biters, and 4 canine or tushes. A mature mare usually has 36 teeth; she will probably not have tushes.
“Horses’ teeth will continue to erupt, or grow, throughout life and therefore are subject to developing sharp points and uneven wear that predispose to other dental abnormalities,” said Dr. Nat T. Messer IV, professor of equine medicine and surgery, Diplomate, ABVP (Certified Equine Practice).
Therefore, it is sometimes necessary to “float” their teeth. Floating is a relatively simple operation and is done without much restraint on most horses, depending on the type of equipment that is used. For example, if motorized dental equipment is used (most floating is done this way nowadays) most horses require significant sedation and restraint.
The teeth erosion process leads to sharp edges on the upper and lower cheek teeth in the horse said Dr. Nancy Jack, director of the D. E. King Equine Program at the University of Arkansas.
“An experienced equine dental practitioner will want to look at the overall health of the horse’s mouth; including, whether wolfe teeth should be extracted, or caps removed,” Jack said.
Whether or not your horses’ teeth will need to be floated can be determined by a veterinarian. “Signs of discomfort or dysfunction include dropping grain while eating, drooling excessively, eating very slowly which may appear as a decreased appetite,” Jack said.
Messer added that they may have unexplained loss of weight, nasal discharge, abnormal swelling of either the upper or lower jaw, or foul smelling breath.”
According to Messer, a horse should have their mouth examined at least once per year, more or less frequently depending on the condition of the horse’s mouth.
“This is part of a routine annual exam that would include updating a Coggins test, vaccinating for diseases endemic in the area, conduction a fecal float for parasite control, as well as an overall wellness exam,” Jack said. “If you start the mouth examination process very shortly after birth for a few days, it becomes a non-dramatic, lower stress process.”
Preventative measures for healthy teeth should include routine examinations and correction of any abnormalities and to minimize feeding feeds with high sugar/carbohydrate content, Messer added.
“Dental problems are best addressed as part of a total preventative health care program under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian,” Messer said. “In most states, as well as in most other states, equine dentistry is considered to be the practice of veterinary medicine; therefore it is against the law for anyone other than a licensed veterinarian to perform dental procedures on horses unless it is a veterinary technician working for and under direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian.”
For more information about your horses’ dental health, contact your local veterinarian or equine specialist.


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