Understanding Horse Teeth: All You Need to Know


Owning horses comes with a wealth of responsibility. The topics of appropriate shelter, access to quality food, and regular veterinary and farrier trips merely address the beginning of horse care. An important but often ignored aspect of care involves horse teeth.

The process of dental care for horses involves treatment by a veterinary specialist. Horse teeth require specialized care ranging from yearly dental exams to routine extraction surgeries. While veterinarians complete the majority of a horse’s dental care, owners need a basic understanding of their dental health. Read on for important facts concerning horse teeth that every owner should know.

7 Important Facts About Horse Teeth

1. They Have Unique Anatomy

Enamel, cementum, and dentin, containing different levels of density, make up the anatomy of equine teeth. Enamel is the hardest and located in columns that run vertically through the tooth. The core of a horse tooth is the root. It is surrounded by nerves that contain pulp. These bring the tooth the necessary blood for it to survive. Moreover, the roots will keep growing all throughout the horse’s lifetime.

2. Horses Have Different Types of Teeth for Different Reasons

Veterinarians classify horse teeth as one of four types: incisors, cheek teeth, canines, and wolf teeth. Incisors make up the front portion of the horse’s mouth and perform the biting action necessary to obtain food. The cheek teeth, or premolars, and molars have the role of grinding the food. Thus, they turn it into a mass that’s easier to swallow for the horses. Canine teeth, present in the upper and lower jaw of males, were once used for fighting but have since lost their function thanks to evolution. In the same way, we can find wolf teeth in the top of jaws (both on males and females). However, these have lost the evolutionary purpose.

3. Unlike Human Teeth, Equine Teeth Keep Growing—and are Multicolored

Full grown horses count 36 to 44 teeth. Deciduous teeth, or caps, will start growing soon after the calf is born. Meanwhile, permanent teeth will settle in by age five. Permanent teeth continue to grow at least 1/8 inch a year during the horse’s life. Thanks to the continuous growth, the teeth worn down by the grinding motion can be replaced. This is made possible by the slope of the equine jaw. You can recognize healthy, growing teeth through the fact that they are multicolored. Moreover, they appear cream colored and present some dark spots.

4. Perform Bridling Carefully to Avoid Dental Damage

Inserting a bit into a horse’s mouth is the key part of bridling. Their mouths have interdental spaces between the incisors and cheek teeth. Place the bit into the this space to avoid unnecessary tooth wear. Keep in mind that it should never come into contact with the cheek teeth. Moreover, the interdental space holds a wealth of nerves. For this reason, you need to insert the bit carefully to minimize discomfort. In the space, you can also find the gums and tongue. The bit eventually reshapes them with the purpose of obtaining maximum comfort for the horse.

5. Dental Checkups Require Preparation.

Dental checkups should be scheduled as early as six months. Depending on the maturation of the foal, examinations are necessary every six to twelve months. After age five, annual examinations are sufficient; older horses’ exams can be delayed until 15 to 18 months. Preparation for these exams includes eating a light meal before the veterinarian arrives. This removes older food matter and help settle the sedation necessary for the exam. Together with sedation, dental halter rigs and head stands help to restrain horses for their annual dental exam. The latter includes floating the teeth, a process that consists of filing any sharp enamel. This helps prevent any future gum injuries.

6. Teeth Removal May Be Necessary

Extraction of equine wolf teeth is common; extraction of wolf teeth that do not break through the gums is necessary. Unexposed wolf teeth cause problems with a horse’s bite pattern. Broken and disease teeth are also removed. Smaller horses, such as the popular miniature horse, need to have molars and premolars removed. They have a smaller frame, which cannot accommodate the normal number of teeth we find in a horse. If you keep your horse in a stall and don’t let it graze, you will need to struggle with tooth overgrowth. In case you float the teeth, you can restore their bite pattern and adjust it to the right length.

7. Horses Mask Pain, But Tooth Trouble is Recognizable

Signs of equine tooth pain include behavior problems such as head tossing and refusing to take the bit when being bridled. Tilting the head during meals to avoid the tooth in question is common in horses with tooth pain, as is slobber and bad breath. If you notice any undigested food in the horse’s stool, it means that it has a poor chewing ability. Moreover, this can also be accompanied by a low body weight. But there can also be some serious consequences of tooth pain. For instance, horses can choke while they eat, or they may suffer from colic because of the food impaction.

A horse’s teeth are unique in size, structure, and composition. Incisors and cheek teeth help horses grab and process food respectively, while the wolf and canine teeth have lost their evolutionary purposes. Teeth continue to grow throughout their lifetime and maintain a multicolored appearance. Equine teeth require regular examination and, if necessary, removal. While horses naturally hide their pain, owners can spot tooth trouble by simply observing their behavior.

Have an experience dealing with horse tooth trouble? Let others hear it from the horse’s mouth. Leave a comment below to share your story!

Images source: depositphotos.com

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