Equine Dentistry: Cribbing

March 4th, 2014 by David Warren

Equine Dentistry: Cribbing

This ol’ guy has pretty much destroyed his upper incisors by years of cribbing. For those not familiar with cribbing, it is a behavior where a horse uses his upper incisors to grip surfaces such as stall doors, fence posts, pipe rails, etc. and then arches his neck and sucks in air. This causes an endorphin release that gives the horse a “high” and becomes very habit forming.

Cribbing often starts due to boredom or anxiety in horses that are confined for long periods of time. Dietary imbalances can also lead to cribbing. Research has shown that foals weaned in a stable (vs. pasture) and fed high carbohydrate feed are up to 4 times more likely to become cribbers.

Cribbing leads to abnormal wear to the teeth and in some cases causes colic and stomach ulcers. It is a difficult and frustrating habit to break. Cribbing collars work on some horses and are most effective when used early on when the habit first starts. There are surgical procedures that help some horses. And there are drugs that prevent the endorphin release but their effectiveness is short lived.

From a dental perspective, our goal is to remove any overgrowth and uneven surfaces of the incisors to allow proper balance and occlusion of the cheek teeth.

David Warren, D.V.M.


Equine Dentistry: Wolf Teeth

February 2nd, 2014 by David Warren

     Wolf teeth are small, shallow rooted teeth located just in front of the upper first cheek teeth and occasionally on the lower jaw. They erupt between 5-12 months of age and are found in both fillies and colts. Approximately 70% of horses will develop wolf teeth. They are often confused with canine teeth which are larger and located further forward in the bars of the mouth.

Since wolf teeth do not come into contact with other teeth, they are not used for chewing. According to fossil records, millions of years ago wolf teeth were similar in size to the rest of the cheek teeth and were used for grinding food. Back then, horses were small forest dwelling brush eaters, with all of the cheek teeth being smaller and narrower like those of sheep and goats. In these early horses there were seven functional cheek teeth in each row compared to the six in today’s horses.

Due to their location, wolf teeth can cause a painful response when they come in contact with the bit. It is standard procedure to extract wolf teeth to help prevent behavior issues such as head tossing, rearing, head tilting, and pulling against the bit.

David Warren, D.V.M.


Equine Dentistry: Incisor Hook

January 26th, 2014 by David Warren

This photo is of a hook on the upper left third incisor of a 16 year old mare. These hooks interfere with the rearward movement of the horse’s lower jaw when she raises her head. And if they are long enough they will cut into the gum and create painful ulcers. The good news is that they are easily removed during a routine dental.


Equine Dentistry: Sharp enamel points

November 24th, 2013 by David Warren


These are before and after photos of an 11 year old Quarter Horse mare.  This is a view of her last 3 upper right molars showing some average size enamel points.  Each upper tooth has 2 enamel points that have become sharp and are cutting into her cheek causing ulcers.

Cheek ulceration due to sharp enamel points is the most common reason horses drop feed and have bit issues.  Treatment involves removing the sharp points and smoothing the cheek side edges of the top teeth and the tongue side edges of the bottom teeth (“floating”).  Once this is done, the ulcers heal in 5-7 days and the cause of pain is resolved.

Horses’ teeth continue to erupt throughout their lives at a rate of about 1/8th of an inch per year.  Because of this continuous growth, the enamel points will redevelop.  This is why most horses should be evaluated yearly to determine if these sharp enamel points need to be removed again.

David Warren, D.V.M.

Equine dentistry: Geriatric horses

November 5th, 2013 by David Warren

These photos are of a 20+ year old Quarter Horse gelding that Ronnie and I worked on today. We have seen a lot of “old timers” this year. Older horses have a variety of teeth problems, especially if they have not been on a regular dental exam schedule.


You can see in these photos this horse has a huge overgrown 1st upper cheek tooth, a severe wave mouth, and a loose tooth that had to be extracted. Once a horse’s teeth reach this stage it is difficult to correct the malocclusions. In a perfect world, horses would receive dental care every year so most of these problems could be prevented or at least minimized.

David Warren, D.V.M.


Equine Dentistry: Canine teeth

September 11th, 2013 by David Warren


     Canine teeth in horses are located in the bars of their mouth (space between the incisors and cheek teeth).  They are spade shaped with thin sharp edges for their points.  Canine teeth erupt when horses are 4-6 years old and are usually very painful during eruption.  All male horses have 4 canines (2 on top, 2 on bottom) but only about 25% of females have some rudimentary form of canine teeth.

     Canine teeth serve no purpose other than as a fighting weapon.  They do not aid in chewing at all.   Most are large and sharp enough to do damage to the tongue and inside of the lips.  Many horses I see have ulcers and scars caused by their canines.

     Shortening and smoothing the edges of  the canine teeth is an important part of the dental procedure.  This helps prevent horses from traumatizing their tongue, especially when the bit is in their mouth.  Shortening large canine teeth also allows for easier bit placement and removal.

David Warren, D.V.M.

Equine Dentistry: Retained baby incisors

July 17th, 2013 by David Warren


This photo is of a 6 year old Thoroughbred mare that did not shed her baby incisor teeth correctly.  The tooth in the center of the photo should have been lost at around 2.5 years of age when the adult tooth erupted.  The baby tooth on the left side of the photo should have been shed at around 4.5 years of age.  Retained baby teeth can cause periodontal disease and other issues that affect the adult teeth and should be removed.  In this case, the baby teeth were extracted and the teeth underneath were not damaged but the adult tooth on the left side is slightly out of alignment.

David Warren, D.V.M.


Equine dentistry: Before and After photos

July 10th, 2013 by David Warren

Before and after photos of a 13 year old Quarter Horse gelding I worked on recently.  Those enamel points are pretty typical in a horse that has not had dental work in a couple years.


Equine Skull Anatomy, interesting facts.

June 17th, 2013 by David Warren


– Horses have 36-44 teeth; 12 incisors, 24 cheek teeth, 4 canine teeth (male horses), and up to 4 wolf teeth.

– Baby teeth are fully replaced by adults at 5 years of age.

– Horse’s teeth grow 1/8 inch each year.

– Young adults teeth are up to 4.5 inches long.

– The upper jaw is wider than the lower jaw.

– Horses chew in a side-to-side figure 8 pattern.

Case study: Large enamel point

June 3rd, 2013 by David Warren

These photos are of a 17 year old Quarter Horse stallion.  He was is good condition but was dropping grain while eating.  You can see a very large and sharp enamel point on his upper right 4th cheek tooth.  Enamel points this large are painful due to the ulceration they cause to nearby cheek and tongue.  The points also restrict the side-to-side grinding motion of the mouth when a horse chews.

Removing the enamel points is a relatively simple, noninvasive procedure.  We use specific grinding tools to reach certain teeth of the horse’s mouth.  The ulcers usually heal in a week or less.

This horse also had large hooks with points located on both lower back cheek teeth.  These teeth are difficult to photograph due to the tongue being in the way.  They are also the most difficult to reach during the dental procedure.  The photo below shows a large ulcer in the back of the mouth that was caused by the hooks on the lower teeth.  Every time this horse closed his mouth the sharp points of the hooks were digging into the soft tissue in the back of his mouth.

Good equine dentistry must address the back part of the horse’s mouth.  This area is difficult to visualize and to work on, making sedation, a full mouth speculum,  and proper equipment very important.

David Warren, D.V.M.