The Horse Dentist Visits

By Terry Golson

A horse’s teeth continue to erupt from the gum line and elongate during most of their lives. This is a smart adaptation for an animal that consumes coarse forage. If their teeth remained static like ours, they’d soon be worn down to useless nubs. The surface of your horse’s teeth aren’t smooth like ours, either, but jagged, which enables them to shred fibrous vegetative matter, something that our human teeth can’t do.

It’s all a very clever system, but much can go awry. If the horse’s jaw is a tad out of alignment, or if they’re not consuming enough rough forage, the teeth will develop sharp points along the edges, which can painfully cut into the soft tissue on the inside of the horse’s mouth. The solution is to do a yearly “float” – which is when the points are rasped smooth.

There are people who have made careers of floating horses’ teeth. Some use a speculum to hold the mouth open, some just slip the rasp in. Many do this without tranquilizers. Most learned this trade as an apprentice to others with experience. Some do a good job. Others don’t.

Tonka’s dental care is a once-a-year event of an essential body part. I want the person doing the floating to do an informed exam before rasping. For that, I prefer to use a veterinarian who is board-certified in equine dentistry. I’m fortunate that there’s one in my region, Dr. Limone.

She visited Tonka this week. First, she tranquilized Tonka. It’s a small dose, he was out of it for only an hour. But during that time, she could have a look in and use her tools without causing him distress.

He got a swish of disinfectant to clear out his mouth.


Then Dr. Limone had a look inside. (Can you believe how big that tongue is?)

Tonka had no abrasions on the right side of his jaw, but on the left there was a line of irritation from points on his teeth. Dr. Limone could see exactly what was causing the issue.

Power tools get a bad rap. Used by people who aren’t watching what they’re doing, they can take down way too much of the tooth, way too quickly. But in trained and skilled hands, they are precise and efficient.


In less than a half-hour, Tonka’s dental procedure was over.  This should keep him comfortable for the next year.

By the way, Dr. Limone’s fee for the teeth rasping is the same as what the itinerant floaters charge. I paid extra for her travel fee (which could be divided among other boarders.) So, this isn’t an extravagant expense!

Have you ever had serious dental issues with your horse? Tell me about it in the comments!

5 thoughts on “The Horse Dentist Visits

  • Laura allemand

    A good equine dentist is such an important part of my team We are also lucky to have a great one close by. My daughter’s POA had a slight parrot mouth when he was young, but the problem was caught early and with regular dental care we have avoided problems. He’s now 21 and going strong.

    Also, when we got our new 7 year old in January, she began tossing her head and refusing the bit very quickly. We always start with the teeth whenever we have bitting issues to make sure there isn’t problems. In this case that’s exactly what it was and we avoided long term issues by having her mouth taken care of immediately.

  • Deb

    Just had an unusual issue with our pony that has been with us since March. Noticed he was chewing quite oddly, called our regular vet who identified a broken tooth, but she doesn’t do extractions. Had to take him to specialist. Half of the molar was broken and partially attached. The loose part was on the cheek side and had been rubbing his cheek badly.

    Background info is that he has had two dental exams and service in the 8 months he’s been with us, as his mouth had been badly neglected.

    No clue what caused this. You just never know what a day brings.

    Also, our youngster had a stuck cap that caused him pain that had to be manually removed.

    • Terry Golson Post author

      Your pony is fortunate to be getting such good care from you and your vet team. It’s been so long that I’ve worked with youngsters that I forgot to mention how important it is to check mouths before you are into the bitting stage. Lots of things can cause ouchiness as baby teeth are replaced with the permanent.

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