Horses have different teeth for different purposes;
- Wolf Teeth – these are vestigial first pre molar teeth
- Cheek Teeth – premolar 2 to molar 3
As with humans, horses have two sets of teeth throughout their lifetime, a deciduous (milk) set followed by their permanent teeth. The eruptions time for different teeth vary, which allows us to age them. A normal adult horse has 40 teeth at 5 years old.
How do horses teeth differ from other animals?
The horse’s oral cavity is adapted for a constant grinding motion; they have irregular enamel ridges that give the teeth their characteristic appearance.
Horses have high crowned teeth with enamel extending past the gum line so are said to be hyposodont. The cheek teeth constantly erupt to compensate for the (normal) 2-3mm/year wearing of the enamel. If this wearing does not occur, or happens unevenly, the tooth will become uneven.
How often should I get my horses teeth checked?
‘Little and often’ is probably the best approach to dentistry in horses.
Up to the age of 10 routine checks every 6-12 months can help spot small problems (such as sharp hooks) before they become bigger problems.
From what age should I get my horses teeth checked?
Young horses often have softer teeth so can sometimes be more prone to developing sharp hooks, which if not noticed can lead to tongue or gum sores.
Reasons for Dental Exam
- Annual checkover for dental prophylaxis
- If owner notices a problem
- Swellings or discharging tracts
- Weight loss
- Excess salivation
- Biting problems
- Unilateral nasal discharge
What will the vet look for in a routine exam?
- Distant observation
- External examination
- Condition score
- Head examination
- Lymph Node size
- Nasal discharge
- Pain on palpation
- Oral examination
- Routine rasping
- Check wolf teeth
- Interdental space
Can I do anything to help?
Regular veterinary examinations are the most effective way of helping to prevent dental disease but there are things that you can do to help. As horses reach their mid-teens the gap between their teeth gets wider (a very gradual process) this can predispose them to gingivitis (inflammation of the gum) and periodontal disease. Washing their mouth with water after feeding can help prevent build up of trapped food and subsequent gingivitis, but it is often much easier said than done!
What are wolf teeth?
Wolf teeth are said to be ‘small peg like teeth’ that can be very variable in size. They are the remnants of pre-molar 1 that normally erupt at some point between 5 months and 18 months of age.
Wolf teeth can occur in the upper jaw and lower jaw but are far more common in the upper jaw. They are not present at all in some horses.
When are wolf teeth removed?
- Small and Sharp
- Unstable / wobbly
- Interfere with the bit
- Consistent pain response
- Wolf Tooth on one side only
- Positioned separate from the first cheek tooth
Sometimes wolf teeth are present but do not erupt; these are know as ‘blind’ and are problematic. It can be difficult to diagnose this condition without careful palpation of the gum, and treatment often requires x-rays to determine the orientation of the tooth prior to extraction.
How are wolf teeth removed?
Wolf teeth removal is a relatively simple procedure performed under sedation and local anesthetic. It is essential that the whole tooth including the root is removed with minimal gum trauma.
What are the most common dental problems in horses?
- Retained deciduous premolars ‘caps’ Should be shed at 2.5, 3 and 4 years but if retained can lead to poor performance. Require surgical removal to allow eruption of permanent teeth below.
- Overgrowths leading to sharp enamel points will often lead to sore points on the gum or mouth. Horses with these sores will often find it difficult to chew. With regular dental rasping these points will not get sharp.
- Hooks normally occur due to the misalignment of the molar arcades; most commonly secondary to an under bite or overbite. The opposite tooth will not be wearing down its counterpart as it should be. If not controlled these hooks can cause pain and limit the movement of the mandible.
- Diastema: gap between two teeth. It is most significant when one forms between cheek teeth. These areas are prone to food impaction, which can lead to gingivitis if not controlled.