Endless Mountain Equine Dentistry

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Your Horse's Teeth

A horse's incisors, premolars, and molars, once fully developed, continue to erupt as the grinding surface is worn down through chewing. A young adult horse will have teeth which are 4.5-5 inches long, but the majority of the crown remaining below the gumline in the dental socket. The rest of the tooth will slowly emerge from the jaw, erupting about 1/8" each year, as the horse ages. When the animal reaches old age, the crowns of the teeth are very short and the teeth are often lost altogether.

Like humans, horses can develop a variety of dental problems, some which may be very serious and require surgery. To head off any potential issues an annual exam is recommended and especially if the horse exhibits any signs of feeding problems. Abnormal teeth not only affect the horse's comfort while chewing,but may also manifest themselves as disobediences or other performance issues while the animal is ridden. Tooth issues may have an impact on how the horse uses its entire body. 
Equine Teeth

Many horses require floating (or rasping) of teeth once every 12 months, although this, too, is variable and dependent on the individual horse. Many dental problems in horses are related to the fact that their teeth erupt continuously throughout their life. Horses are evolved to graze nearly continuously, often on rough forage in semi-arid climates. Their teeth are designed to wear against the tooth above or below as the horse chews, thus preventing excess growth. The upper jaw is wider than the lower one. Sharp edges occur on the outside of the upper molars and the inside of the lower molars, as they are unopposed by an opposite grinding surface.

There are many times when tooth wear is not even, and the horse may develop sharp edges on their teeth that reduce chewing efficiency of the teeth, interfere with jaw motion, and in extreme cases can cut the tongue or cheek, making eating and riding painful.

In the wild, natural foodstuffs may have allowed teeth to wear more evenly. Because many modern horses often graze on lusher, softer forage than their ancestors, and are also frequently fed grain or other concentrated feed, it is possible some natural wear may be reduced in the domestic horse. On the other hand, this same uneven wear in the wild may have at times contributed to a shorter lifespan. Modern wild horses live an estimated 20 years at most, while a domesticated horse, depending on breed and management, quite often lives 25 to 30 years. Thus, because domesticated animals also live longer, they may simply have more time to develop dental issues that their wild forebears never faced.

In young horses, twenty four teeth are deciduous or "caps". These are the first three premolars of each arcade (not including wolf teeth) and all incisors. Caps are pushed out by the new permanent teeth, starting late in a horse's two year old year. Caps will eventually shed on their own, but may cause discomfort when still loose, requiring extraction. The first four or five years of a horse's life are when the most growth-related changes occur and hence frequent checkups may prevent problems from developing. Equine teeth get harder as the horse gets older and may not have rapid changes during the prime adult years of life, but as horses become aged, particularly from the late teens on, additional changes in incisor angle and other molar growth patterns often necessitate frequent care.

Estimating age using tooth eruption

Horses' teeth are often used to estimate the animal's age, hence the sayings "long in the tooth", "straight from the horse's mouth" and "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth".

There are 24 deciduous teeth (also known as milk, temporary, or baby teeth). These come out in pairs, and are pushed out later by the permanent teeth. The number of permanent teeth may vary, depending on whether the horse has wolf teeth or canines. Most mares have 36, and most male horses have 40.

Common ages for tooth eruption
Type of tooth Number Deciduous Permanent
Incisor First (central) birth to 8 days 2.5 yrs
Incisor Second (intermediate) 4.5–6 weeks 3.5-4 yrs
Incisor Third (corner) 6–9 months 4.5-5 yrs
Canine Absent 3.5-5 yrs, some around 6 yrs (if ever)
Premolar First (wolf) Absent 6 months to 3 years (if ever)
Premolar Second birth to 2 weeks 2-3 yrs
Premolar Third birth to 2 weeks 2.5-3 yrs
Premolar Fourth birth to 2 weeks 3-4 yrs
Molar First Absent 9–12 months
Molar Second Absent 2 yrs
Molar Third Absent 3-4 yrs

By age five, all permanent teeth have usually erupted. The horse is then said to have a "full" mouth.

However, individual horses will vary, and some breeds and types of horses are known to have differing eruption timelines.

5324 Mercur Hill Road
Wyalusing, PA 18853
Phone: 607-351-6423
Email: EndlessMtnEqD@gmail.com