At two years old, horses should possess four permanent Incisors in each jaw and all milk premolars have been replaced with their permanent equivalents. Now is an excellent opportunity to inspect their mouth as this could reveal sharp wolf teeth which could cause injuries during training and result in decreased performance.
Young horses’ mouths undergo many changes as they grow; from birth to age 5, foals shed 24 deciduous (baby) teeth before sprouting 36-40 permanent ones. Their mouth will also be shaped by bone-like growths known as premolars and incisors that protrude on either side of their lower jaw, creating an oval-shaped mouth.
Initially, horses’ first teeth to emerge are their incisors; these appear as small points above each set of premolars on either side of the mouth. Their wide bases, known as cusps, taper to narrower tips known as necks. Equines use their incisors for grinding food before it is consumed by their other teeth.
After the incisors have appeared, the premolars will follow as new teeth emerge. Premolars are wider than incisors but feature more rounded shapes with shallow roots; these teeth serve to grind hay and grass when eating by the horse.
As part of the teething process, permanent incisors emerge from below and push out baby incisors – helping ensure there is enough space for these permanent teeth to come in correctly.
If the incisors and premolars fail to erupt correctly, horses may experience pain and discomfort that interferes with training. Horses suffering from this discomfort will not always want to consume their feed of hay or grass as often, leading to weight loss and possibly head tossing, tongue over the bit behaviours, bucking lugging behavior as well as drooling of saliva in their water bucket.
At least once every year, it is recommended that a 2-year old horse receive a comprehensive oral exam and dental treatment from its veterinarian to monitor development of his/her oral cavity and to make sure any wolf teeth present are extracted as well as to balance molars and premolars to avoid malocclusions that interfere with proper lower jaw alignment or cause long hooks on cheek teeth which could damage soft tissues in his mouth.
As teeth continue to develop, their young bones remain extremely flexible. If the incisors grow too long, your equine dentist can file them down using hand instruments until they meet the ideal length, thus decreasing risk for bite issues in future and permitting use in normal chewing to gradually wear away at their length over time.
Between 2 and 4, horses typically begin losing 24 baby teeth – both premolars (cheek) and incisors – to make way for adult ones. At this age, it is vitally important that they receive a full mouth examination so as to identify and address any possible dental issues early before they cause more serious issues; such as:
Loose incisors that become loose may cause irritation in the mouth. In most cases, however, this will resolve itself as adult teeth come in and push out any old incisors that have fallen out.
Premolars that are either incompletely erupted or have an irregular wear pattern require special consideration. Although they will likely erupt on their own, we will monitor them to ensure they do not overgrow and become an issue.
Male horses commonly develop four canine teeth known as “wolf teeth”, which appear between their corner incisors and molars. Wolf teeth are shallowly-rooted canines with hook-like ends that should be checked at each 2.5-3 year dental check and removed as necessary; otherwise they could pose significant feed utilization problems due to reduced grinding surface; periodontistis; fractured or missing teeth as potential issues;
Retained caps (deteriorated baby teeth) in cheek teeth can also pose problems, as obstructing permanent tooth eruption can lead to malocclusions (improper bites). Such retainers must be assessed and either evaluated and removed or floated away to ensure the best chewing and biting experiences.
Lack of connection or excessive wear between molars and premolars may result in hooks which must be periodically flattened to avoid impact on soft tissues in the mouth causing inflammation or discomfort, therefore these must also be periodically floated under sedation to be effective.
An overbite or underbite in horses is notoriously difficult to correct once skeletal development is complete, however floating the teeth regularly can help manage this condition by maintaining optimal positioning of their jaws for healthy mastication. When floating is being performed by the dentist, he or she will also examine and record wear patterns on molars and premolars to detect abnormalities that need to be addressed for maximum long term performance and help avoid future problems. This ensures the optimal long-term outcome and minimizes future complications. For assistance on caring for your horse’s teeth, contact either your local veterinary hospital or our Equine Dental Specialists. Our team of veterinarians has many years of experience assessing and treating all sorts of animal teeth including horses.