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Horse Teeth

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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.

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