Have your horse's teeth examined regularly at all stages of life.
Ask for references and credentials from anyone who will work on your horse's teeth.
Baby teeth, or caps, may need to be removed as permanent teeth come in.
If your horse develops wolf teeth, it's best to have them removed.
Many problems will begin with mild signs that can change completely as they become moderate to severe. That can cause owners to think the problem has resolved itself rather than realizing that it is simply progressing.
Additionally, many dental problems manifest as issues in other areas. For instance, soreness or disease on the right side of the mouth can show up as left hind lameness, which then "magically" disappears after the mouth has been "equilibrated" - the medical term for floating - or the diseased teeth extracted.
Signs of dental disease include head shaking or tossing and head shyness; feed packing in the cheeks; creating hay wads when eating; facial or jaw tenderness and/or swelling; bad breath or a foul smell from the nose; problems when inserting the bit or spitting the bit out, or chewing at or on the bit while being ridden; reluctance to give and round to the bit; reluctance to eat or not eating at all; behavior problems while being ridden; dropping food while eating; weight loss followed by no weight gain when additional food is added; foamy, frothy mouth and excessive salivation; colic symptoms and impactions of the throat (choke); undigested grain in feces; nasal discharge and/or nose bleeds; and sinusitis.
This list is merely a beginning. If your horse has exhibited any of these symptoms, contact a qualified equine dentist right away to have his mouth examined.
The Dental Exam
Equine dental practitioners will tell you that there is a right way and a wrong way to do a dental exam. If your veterinarian just runs his fingers along the premolar and molar rows of teeth and lifts the lips to take a peek, this is inadequate by today's standards.
"A proper dental exam includes both looking deeply into the horse's mouth and feeling what's going on inside, even all the way at the back," says Scott Marx, DVM, IAED/C, a veterinarian in Parker, Colo., whose practice is exclusively equine dental care. Dr. Marx advocates sedating the horse, inserting a mouth speculum, and using a very bright light (many practitioners will wear a bright head lamp) to do your visual exam first. "Remember to start with the incisors; many doctors forget to look at the front teeth."
Your equine dentist or vet will need to support the sedated horse's head to be able to get a good, thorough look all the way around the mouth. To see clearly into the back of the horse's mouth, around the premolars and molars, your vet should rinse out the horse's mouth with water.
After your vet has identified problem areas on visual exam, Dr. Marx explains that he/she should feel inside the mouth to recognize additional problems and assess the degree of correction that may be needed. Your practitioner should also make sure to feel the outside of the head for swelling or soreness at the TMJ joint or along the masticatory muscles. Any dental radiographs that may be needed should be noted as the examination progresses.
With the examination done, your veterinarian should explain his/her findings and help you decide what procedures need to be completed to fix any problem areas. "Since preventive dental maintenance is still evolving in the horse world, virtually every horse I examine needs some correction," says Dr. Marx. "Hopefully, the day will come when I can look at a horse's teeth and not see anything wrong, but we're not at that point today."