Signs of Dental Disease in Horses

The signs of dental disease are often very non-specific.  By the time the owner becomes aware of a problem it is often quite advanced.  The majority of the signs are associated with pain avoidance and very rarely due to the disease directly.


Early dental problems will be noticed by an astute rider as pain avoidance will manifest itself as bit and rider problems.  The signs include:
  • head shaking or tossing
  • poor responsiveness to the reins
  • lugging or head tilting to one side
  • unexplained or subtle lameness in front
  • rearing or even bucking
  • working behind the bit
  • poor collection
  • refusal to maintain head carriage
  • refusal to take one lead or being slow in transitions
  • resistance to turning one direction
  • pulling hard
  • refuses to accept bridling or rears when bridled
  • tongue over the bit or sticks tongue out
  • slightly opens mouth when head in vertical position
  • chewing the bit

These signs are easily missed unless a detailed history is obtained from the rider.  Quite often they are blamed on conditions other than dental problems.



Purulent Nasal Discharge

Once dental disease becomes advanced, the owner will notice problems with eating (mastication) such as:

  • spilling feed
  • head tilt
  • facial expressions consistent with pain
  • excessive salivation
  • quidding of feed (dropping large balls of feed)
  • slow eating
  • frequent washing of mouth in water
  • leaving salt or hard grains
  • anxiety or anger when eating
  • eating the hay and leaving the grain
  • dropping balls of feed onto ground
  • faeces with significant number of fibres more than 10 mm in length
  • faeces with whole or undigested grains in it.


Severe dental disease will manifest itself directly as:

  • halitosis (bad breath)
  • facial swellings on mandible or maxilla
  • purulent (pus) nasal discharge
  • draining sinus tracts
  • poor body condition for amount of diet fed
  • choke
  • colic
  • diarrhoea

Discharging Sinus Tract


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