Tuesdays with Tony

Have you seen my docs getting ready to do your horse’s dental exam? She puts on that head lamp and looks like she’s about to go spelunking in a deep, dark, cave. Which, it turns out, is kind of how your horse’s mouth is shaped. Unlike cats and dogs, your horse’s mouth doesn’t open very far, which is why my doc needs a light source, a dental speculum, and a mirror to get a thorough look all the way in the back of his mouth. It’s also the reason why just sticking a dental float in there and blindly rasping around is NOT an adequate way to do a dental.

Because it’s tricky for you to get a good view inside your horse’s mouth, today I’m going to give you an overview of some of the most common dental abnormalities my doc may find during your horse’s dental exam. There are plenty of other dental problems, but these are the usual offenders. If you hear my doc mention them, you’ll have a good idea of what she is seeing. Of course, if you keep up with your horse’s yearly dentals, you’re less likely to find that any of these have become a serious problem.

To start with, here’s what normal cheek teeth should look like. Even rows of teeth, no sharp points, and healthy cheeks, gums, and tongue.

Enamel Points

These are sharp points made of tooth enamel that usually form on the outside edges of the upper cheek teeth and the inside edges of the lower cheek teeth. They are probably the most common abnormality my docs correct and form over time from the chewing action of the horse. The enamel forms razor sharp edges when it isn’t ground down appropriately, which stops the horse from being able to chew as easily sideways, worsening the problem. The sharp points traumatize the soft tissues of the cheeks and tongue, leading to painful ulcers. See the triangular edges to the upper teeth in this picture? They have caused the row of ulcers on the cheek that the metal probe is pointing at. My docs will remove the sharp points during the dental float, allowing the soft tissues to heal and the jaws to be able to move correctly.


Common in horses that haven’t received regular dental care, the cheek teeth develop an uneven wave-like shape. The dental x-ray shows a severe wave mouth – see the undulations in the height of the teeth? This leads to uneven wear, prematurely worn-out teeth, and tooth loss. To correct a wave, my docs will reduce the parts of the teeth that are too tall, to slow or stop the wearing down of the shorter teeth and allow the horse to chew freely. If it’s bad, the correction can’t always be done in one go, so don’t let it get that advanced. A wave mouth will require proper maintenance to prevent the abnormal shape from recurring.


Hooks can happen in the front or back of the mouth. A hook in the front of the mouth occurs when the front border of the first cheek tooth on the upper jaw overhangs the first cheek teeth on the lower jaw. They may develop when a horse is born with a slight overbite known as a parrot-mouth or can form when other dental problems force the jaws out of alignment. Hooks can become so long and sharp that they cut into the gums of the opposing jaw.


Step mouth occurs when one cheek tooth has grown longer than the others. It is usually due to the opposing tooth being broken or missing. The step tooth has nothing to grind against to keep its length in check, and it grows into the space where the other tooth should be. It prevents the horse from being able to chew freely, resulting in abnormal wear. My docs will reduce the step tooth to the height it should normally be. If your horse has ever has an extraction, it is very important to keep up on his dentals, preferably every 6 months, so a step doesn’t form.

Fractured teeth

Broken incisors can occur due to trauma, but cheek teeth most often fracture due to having been weakened by infection or abnormal wear. Fractures that involve the inner structures of the tooth can cause severe pain, problems chewing, and infection that can spread to the tooth roots or even the sinuses.


Calculus, also called tartar, is most often found on the lower canine teeth, especially in horses fed a diet with a lot of grain and sugar content. It looks like a chalky, brittle, tan-colored stone around the base of the canines and causes gingivitis if allowed to build up.

Your best defense against any of these problems is to get your horse a dental performed by a veterinarian, once a year. And if you have any questions, my docs are always here to help you make the right decision for your horse.

Until next week,


P.S. My docs have a couple of podcast episodes regarding teeth, so if you’re craving more knowledge than I have the energy to give you, check out the Podcast Page of my website. It’s loaded with great information, and all you have to do is listen!

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

[jetpack_subscription_form title="Subscribe to Whinny's Wisdoms"]

More Adventures of the Horse Doctor's Husband