Routine equine dentistry is an often overlooked aspect of preventative care that can significantly impact your horse’s welfare and performance.

Horses have specialized teeth adapted to continuous grazing. Unlike human teeth, horse teeth erupt throughout their life and can become imbalanced if they are not worn down evenly.

Domestic horses may have diets and eating patterns that prevent them from wearing down their teeth naturally. Uneven wear can cause significant discomfort, especially for performance horses wearing bits and bridles during exercise.

Unfortunately, many horses aren’t getting the dental care they need. Postmortem studies frequently report undiagnosed dental disorders in horses. [1]

This article will discuss why dentistry is critical to horse health care. We will also review everything horse owners need to know about routine dental exams and teeth floating.

The Horse’s Mouth

To understand equine dentistry and how it affects horse welfare, horse owners need a basic understanding of the anatomy and function of the horse’s mouth.

Horse Teeth

Adult horses have hypsodont teeth. These teeth are common in mammals that wear down the enamel by eating abrasive material, such as coarse forage.

The tooth enamel extends well past the gumline and continually erupts throughout the horse’s life as the grinding surface wears away. [3]

Deciduous Teeth

Horses get two sets of teeth during their lifetime. Like humans, young horses have temporary baby teeth. Newborn foals may or may not have their first deciduous incisors at birth. Their last baby teeth come in at around eight months of age.

Adult teeth start replacing the deciduous teeth when horses are 2.5 years old. Most horses have a complete set of permanent teeth by age 5. [4]

You might notice bumps on the lower jaw in young horses between the ages of 2 and 4 during this process. These bumps are impacted teeth that usually correct themselves.

In horses, deciduous teeth do not fall out as the permanent teeth come in. Instead, they gradually deteriorate as the adult teeth start erupting.

Regular dental care is essential for young horses to ensure the remnants of deciduous teeth are shed without complications. These remnants are called caps and can occasionally cause pain when partially dislodged or loose. [4]

Incisors

The incisors are the narrow-edged teeth visible at the front of the mouth used to grasp and tear forage. Horses have six lower and six upper incisors. [5]

Cheek Teeth

Cheek teeth are the premolars and molars at the back of the mouth that do most of the chewing work, grinding feed and forages to prepare them for digestion. Horses have 24 cheek teeth, with six lower and six upper teeth on each side. [6]

The three molars and three premolars in each row make up an arcade. Each arcade erupts as a tightly packed unit and acts as a single grinding surface. [6]

Wolf Teeth

Wolf teeth are small, vestigial teeth usually found just in front of the first upper cheek teeth. These teeth erupt in young horses between 6 and 18 months, but not all horses have them. [8]

Since they don’t serve any purpose for the horse and can cause pain if they interfere with the bit, many owners and veterinarians opt to extract them before a horse starts training. [8]

Canines

Canines are short, sharp teeth located in the gap between incisor teeth and cheek teeth.

These teeth erupt around 4 to 5 years of age and are typically only found in male horses. Most adult male horses have 40 teeth, including canines, while most females have 36.

These teeth are used for fighting in wild male horses but don’t serve a purpose in domesticated animals. Unlike wolf teeth, canine teeth removal is a complicated procedure that is generally not recommended. [7]

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