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Equine Dentistry

Rhoades Equine Veterinary Service logo

Sarah L Rhoades, DVM

Providing quality veterinary services for horses in the greater Franklin County, Missouri area.

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For millennia, horse's have been utilized for their size, power, and athleticism. Further, they have adapted to do so on a relatively poor quality and energy diet. As a result, a horse's dependence on their dentition to acquire the needed calories, vitamins and minerals needed to maintain, survive, and thrive is absolute. Equine dentistry is a vital component in the maintenance of any horse's routine health care.


Horses have several unique adaptations that both allow for a remarkable lifestyle and result in special problems that require routine care. As an athlete, dentition can also play a role in both welfare and training: sharp points that begin to form on the sides of the horse's teeth ulcerate and lacerate the sensitive tissue within the mouth resulting in pain when cues are applied through pressure from the use of a bit or a hackamore.

Here at Rhoades Equine, we utilize specialized power equipment designed to grind the sharpened points off a horse's molars and premolars in a process commonly referred to as "floating." Various heads and attachments allow access to different parts of the horse's mouth and dentition in order to correct common abnormalities that develop over time. Finally, a careful examination of each and every tooth is performed and documented to aid in slowing and avoiding the development of more severe future pathology. 

Dr Sarah Rhoade performing a routine detal float on a pony's teeth.


  • Anisognathic Jaw Alignment - Unlike in human's where our jaws align perfectly, a horse's lower jaw is set more narrow than their upper jaw. This uneven alignment is referred to as Anisognathism.

  • Circular chewing motion - allows the horse to utilize it's uneven jaw and grind the rough forage it eats.

  • Multiple different compounds within their teeth - Unlike in humans, where our teeth are encased within Enamel, a horse's molars and premolars have enamel entwined within their teeth. The result is uneven wear and a rough chewing surface that allows the horse to grind tough forage such as grass and hay.

  • A very long crown - a horse's molars and premolars are formed with a very long crown, designed to be slowly ground away throughout the course of the horse's life.

  • Continuous eruption - as time goes on, a horse's teeth continue to erupt providing new chewing surface for the horse to eat with.

The circular motion a horse utilizes when chewing, and uneven jaw set, while allowing the horse to grind it's feed into particles its body can utilize, also result in the formation of sharp points on the outside portion of the wider set upper jaw and inside of the more narrow lower jaw. As time goes on, the continuous eruption and wear of the teeth can exacerbate these points and may alter the normal movement a horse uses while chewing exacerbating the development further. Lost or broken teeth, retained deciduous (baby) teeth may also result in overgrowth or abnormal wear patterns and alter normal mastication.

Why don't wild horses need their teeth floated?

Nature selects individuals that live long enough to pass their genes on and gives little selective value for life after reproductive potential declines.


In the wild, a horse's lifespan often depends on the onset of chronic lameness and dentition problems.


When a horse can no longer ambulate and chew well enough to feed itself and escape predation. Without intervention, an unkind death looms.

Wild horse's typically enjoy a lifespan less than half that of a domestic horse - typically 8 or 9 years, although there are cases of individuals living into their teens compared to domestic horses that will often even remain active well into their 20s and beyond.

The equine oral cavity showing the modified pre-molar commonly known as a wolf tooth.
Equipment used to perform dental floats on horses has come a long way. Rhoades Equine Vet Svc uses a, electric powered dental float to improve the quality of that service and reduce the duration of time a horse needs to be sedated.

Why choose Power Equipment?

Rhoades Equine seeks to provide high quality veterinary care to our clients. As such, we feel that the use of power equipment offers more advantages for the following reasons:

  • Decreased Procedure times - because power equipment is more efficient and faster, result in less stress on the horse. Tranquilizer is a necessity in order to perform a thorough exam and evaluation of the horse's mouth, as well as perform quality work in the hard to reach crevices of the horse's mouth. However, faster procedure times also allow for use of less tranquilizer than would otherwise be necessary.

  • More specific and specialized targeting of problem areas - our power equipment has specialized and interchangeable heads that allow for reaching specific problem areas. The result is a higher level and more complete procedure than would otherwise be possible.

​Power Dental equipment is a very powerful tool and great harm can be inflicted in the hands of unskilled and unknowledgeable individuals - over floating and causing heat damage to teeth are two highly concerning and possible complications in these regards.


However, in the hands of trained, and skilled professionals the use of a Power equipment offers significant advantages and does not pose a greater danger than that of hand held equipment.

What is dentistry in horses and why have it done?
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