Weekend Wellness: Don’t Avoid the Dentist

February is Equine Dental Health Awareness Month (yes, that’s a thing), so this is a great time to get a refresher on how dental health can affect your horse and remind you to have its teeth checked.


Dental problems among horses can often cause health issues and contribute to behavioral problems. This is especially true when painful hooks develop, causing soreness and lesions along the gums, or when a horse gets a periapical infection — or abscessed cheek teeth.

Some of the health issues that can arise from a horse that has dental issues can include weight loss, poor overall health, drooling, sinus discharge and dehydration. These issues are often due to discomfort that results in slow eating and reduced intake.

The Journal of Equine Veterinary Science (JEVS) recently published an article  that shows a link between common equine behavior problems and abscessed teeth. According to the study, periapical infections can induce pain that will manifest itself in your horse’s behavior.

Here are some behavioral symptoms to be aware of and watch out for.

A change in eating and drinking, specifically

  • Eating slowly or taking frequent pauses while eating hay
  • Head turning while eating
  • Dropping hay or grain
  • Dipping hay in water
  • Avoiding drinking cold water

Bitting issues such as

  • Evading the bit
  • Head shaking
  • Lolling tongue
  • Opening the mouth when ridden or driven with a bit
  • Rein contact worse on one side of the mouth
  • Resistance to bridling

Other indications can include

  • Being withdrawn
  • An intense stare
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Self-harm, especially if directed at the head
  • Foul odor coming from the mouth or nose
  • Swelling in the jaw or face
  • A decline in performance

Even if your horse exhibits only some of these symptoms, it’s important to consult your equine veterinarian or dentist. Although other factors may come into play in determining your horse’s behavior and/or health issues, having teeth checked is never a bad idea. Even if your horse is not exhibiting any symptoms, having its teeth checked at least once a year is recommended by most vets and dentists.