Horse teeth is a term used in equine circles that refers to the dentition of horses. Like people, horse teeth are both heterodontous and diphyodontous.
Heterondontous means that horses develop teeth of different shapes to help them with specialist chewing tasks. All horses have twelve incisor teeth at the front of the mouth for cutting food while grazing, followed by a set of twelve molars at the back. Between the two groups of teeth, there is an interdental space in which no teeth grow at all.
Diphyodontous means that horses have two sets of teeth during their lifetime - just like people. The first is a deciduous set that falls out after childhood. The second is an adult set that emerges when the horse is approximately five years old and remains for life. “Milk teeth” are shorter and more oval-shaped than their adult counterparts.
Wolf Teeth in Horses
Horses can also have a set of up to four vestigial teeth called “wolf teeth. ” Around 28 per cent of adult female horses have at least one wolf tooth with many of them only partially erupted in the mouth.
Researchers believe that these teeth once fulfilled a premolar role (not canine role as previously assumed) and helped to shuttle plant matter for mashing and chomping at the back of the mouth.
Wolf teeth mainly grow out of the upper jaw. Because they take up additional space in the mouth, they can make it difficult for some workhorses to take the bit. Equine dentists must often remove these teeth from the horse’s mouth as well as some surrounding molars to make bits comfortable and compatible.
Horse Teeth Age
You can determine the age of a horse from the condition of its dentition. Experienced equine specialists have charted the course of wear and tear as it affects the horse during its life.
Here are some milestones:
- At age 6, the cups on the lower incisors are generally worn away
- By age 7, the lower intermediates are worn
- By age 8, the corners are showing signs of wear
- At age 9, the upper intermediate incisors are worn
- By age 11, the corners of the upper incisors are worn
A horse where all the cups are gone is called “smooth mouthed. ”
Wear and tear typically lead to the exposure of the pulp - the part of the tooth that sits under the enamel. As this happens, a dark line appears at the front of the dental cup and grows in size as the cups are worn away, eventually becoming oval. By age six, these lines become visible on the lower incisors. By age eight, they are highly visible, and by age ten to twelve, they become noticeable on all incisors.
How Many Teeth Do Horses Have?
Fully developed horses typically have between 36 and 44 teeth depending on the number of wolf teeth that they have. The teeth are usually between 4. 5 and 5 inches long, with most of the crown residing below the gumline when the animal is young. Horses teeth emerge slowly across their lifetime, protruding by an additional eighth of an inch per year until old age.
Our understanding of equine dental care is improving all the time and dentistry techniques are improving with it. It has become clear that good dental care can reduce the incidence of several conditions in horses. Dental care is an issue which should never be overlooked.
How to Spot Equine Dental Problems
It can be hard to spot when your horse has an issue with its teeth. The horse may adjust their chewing to adapt to any pain that they are experiencing, and this can mask the problem. For this reason, there may be no obvious signs of pain even when your horse requires attention. By the time that you spot an issue, it could be too late to treat. Do be aware that slow eating, dropping food and bad breath are all signs of trouble. It is important to get your horse's teeth checked regularly because early intervention could make all the difference.
Bad Teeth and Poor Performance
When a horse is experiencing discomfort, it may hold his head in an unnatural position. This can result in pain in the poll, neck and back which will affect the horse's performance.
Overgrown Teeth and Colic
Horses which have had their teeth checked regularly have been shown to be at a reduced risk of colic caused by large colon impaction. It is important to rasp your horse's teeth but equally important not to over rasp them, as this could make it harder for your horse to eat and that may actually cause colic.
Horses' teeth continue to grow until they are roughly 18 years of age as they have evolved to eat coarse vegetation which wears the teeth down. But your horse will probably be feeding on lush grass and soft hay and so their teeth will need rasping to keep growth in check. In addition, if your horse eats from a hay net, then this can result in abnormal wear and the formation of sharp points which can injure soft tissues in the mouth. Any points must be addressed by rasping.
Older horses will have teeth which have stopped growing and so they must be treated with great care. Any tooth material which is rasped away will not be replaced. Eventually, the teeth will be worn away to the extent that they are level with the gums. This necessitates careful management of their diet. Older horses may also develop gaps between their teeth, known as diastema. These gaps will often become impacted with food and this can result in a painful case of gingivitis. It may be that you are advised to avoid chaff or hay to prevent food being caught in the gaps or after dental treatment. There are a number of horse feeds that can help, such as Allen & Page Fast Fibre which can be used as a hay substitute and its useful for horses with poor teeth. Of course, if you are changing your horse's diet it is best to introduce new feeds gradually if possible.
Can Horses Have Fillings?
Horses can indeed have fillings to prevent decay, fractures or infections. The teeth are usually filled with the same materials used in human dentistry. Good dental care is vital and so you should keep an eye on your horse's teeth and have them checked regularly by an equine dental technician. Bad teeth can be painful and will lead to a variety of health issues which are easily avoided.