You can detect many common dental problems by observing your horse. Some behaviour that looks like quirks may actually be due to a dental problem!
Does your horse, with each bite, stuff as much grain as possible into his mouth then dribble much of it all over the ground as he chews?
Does your horse act like he’s mad at his hay, butting it with his head or grabbing and shaking it?
Horses whose teeth hurt them or whose cheek grinders don’t meet properly shake hay -- especially Lucerne-- in order to knock the nutritious leaves off. They survive and even fatten by licking up the leaves and the small, shattered stems.
Does your horse spit out wads or balls of stems?
Is his feed bin full of chopped sections of stems?
Horses whose teeth are missing or who have sore cheeks, gums, or teeth will suck and gum hay, swallowing leaves and fine stems but spitting out stem-balls or quids.
Does your horse’s water bucket look like a slime pit?
Is there un-chewed feed in your horse’s faeces?
Have you observed him washing his hay or even dunking mouthfuls into the water while he chews them?
Horses that need a dentist’s attention soak hay to soften it before attempting to chew or swallow.
How does your horse’s breath smell?
Rotten smells are a sign of trouble. Horses get tooth cavities and gum disease, just like people!
Begin by Inspecting Your Own Horse
Open your horse’s lips and look at the incisor teeth from the front.
What does the horse’s smile look like?
Is there a missing tooth or teeth out of alignment?
An uneven, upside-down, slanted, or S-shaped smile, almost certainly means trouble with the cheek grinders too.
Does your horse’s head look the same on both left and right sides?
Do the jaw muscles appear to be of the same size on both sides?
Does he tip, wring, or toss his head when bitted?
Uneven development of bones or muscles often means uneven wear on the teeth inside the mouth. Unsteady on the bit may also mean trouble.
Look at your horse’s front teeth from the side.
Do you see overshot or undershot teeth?
Overshot and undershot horses can often be helped by a competent equine dentist. In an older horse, the teeth grow out from the jaws at a more horizontal angle, but should not be allowed to become too long.
Place your hands against your horse’s cheeks. Gently press in and upward, pressing the cheek against the teeth inside.
Does the horse flinch?
Does your horse dislike the cavesson or bosal, or seem exceptionally grumpy about having his head handled?
These are signs that the horse may have sharp points on the teeth.
Do you own a young horse?
Between the ages of 2 and 5, your horse is going to erupt about 40 permanent teeth and shed 24 baby teeth or caps.
Do you own an older horse?
Barring injury, horses’ teeth come to the end of their lives beginning about age 20. Loose, expired teeth are often painful to the horse and may cause him to eat very slowly or to fail to grind food thoroughly, and thus to drop weight and condition.