Brushing Horses' Teeth

Q. Is there anything we can use on a horse's teeth to get all the gunk off and the grass out of their gums? Is it okay to use toothpaste?


A. Horses' teeth are not completely covered in smooth, hard enamel, like dogs, cats, or humans. Instead, they are largely covered with a material called cementum, which is a little softer and much more porous than enamel. Cementum has a tendency to absorb pigments from the plants that horses eat, causing the yellow to brown and even black staining on their teeth. This is normal in the horse and does not need to be removed.

Tartar is the thick, hard, yellow-gray substance that most commonly forms at the base of the canine teeth in geldings and stallions and sometimes at the base of the incisor teeth. If left to build up, the tartar will eventually irritate the gum surrounding the tooth and might cause bleeding and discomfort. Tartar removal is part of any regular comprehensive dental examination, which is recommended for all horses. Your veterinarian can show you how to remove any tartar between visits.

Normal, healthy teeth have no spaces between them. If normal alignment is disrupted and food starts packing between teeth, it sets up the perfect breeding ground for bacteria to multiply and damage the gums and deeper tissues. Often, periodontal disease (disease of the tissues surrounding the tooth) leads to tooth root damage, loss of bone integrity, and eventually loss of the involved tooth. Regular examination by a veterinary professional skilled in equine dentistry can identify problems like this early and allow them to initiate treatment before it escalates to irreversible damage.

A comprehensive dental examination at least every 12 months is recommended for all horses. More frequent examinations might be indicated for young horses or horses with pre-existing dental abnormalities. A veterinary professional skilled in equine dentistry can recommend a schedule and treatment plan that best suits your horse's needs.

About the Author

Mary DeLorey, DVM

Mary S. DeLorey, DVM earned her veterinary degree from University of Missouri in 1992. Since 2000, she has devoted her entire professional energies to equine dentistry. Her practice, Northwest Equine Dentistry, Inc. serves the states of Washington and Idaho and is based near Seattle. Dr. DeLorey has traveled internationally to instruct veterinarians in equine dentistry techniques and speaks to horse owners nationwide. She trail rides and raises sport ponies from her ranch in Eastern Washington when she's not on the road.

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