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A Quick Guide To Horse Teeth
 By Winniefield Park   •   9th Sep 2016   •   1,189 views   •   0 comments


Have you ever looked into a horse’s mouth. There are a lot of teeth in there! The average adult has thirty two teeth. Horses can have up to forty-two teeth. The incisors are at the front, and a horse has twelve, six on both top and bottom. These are the teeth they use for clipping grass. The twenty-four teeth at the back are premolars and molars. These are used to grind down the tough fibers of the plant material that horses eat.

There are four other teeth that are called vestigial teeth. One set is called the tushes or canine teeth. Only male horses usually have these. They grow just in front of the premolars. The other set may be found in males and females. They are called wolf teeth. They too can grow just in front of the premolars, on the bars of the jaw - that empty space between a horse’s incisors and premolars. These teeth can interfere with how the bit sits on the bars of the mouth, and if this happens they are removed.

Horses have two full sets of teeth throughout their life, just as humans and many other mammals do. The first set is called the milk, baby or deciduous teeth. In humans, the adult teeth start pushing the baby ones out at about age six. A horse will start sporting a gappy grin as two year old and it won’t be unusual to find a lost tooth in the pasture or hay feeder. Occasionally, a baby tooth won’t get pushed out, and will form a cap over the adult tooth. This can result in discomfort and possible infection. If this happens, a vet can help clear things up.

Even non-horse people will know that a horse’s teeth grow throughout its lifetime. Ideally, the horse wears down the growth as it chews its fibrous and sometimes gritty diet. Our domestic horses may not wear their teeth down evenly. This can cause sharp, misshapen edges that must be smoothed out by a dentist or vet in a process called floating. And, just because a horse’s teeth grow throughout its life, doesn’t mean it will always maintain the growth. A horse may actually live longer than the lifespan of its teeth. As the root grows out, a gap in the horse’s gums will be left. This is part of the reason a senior horse may be difficult to keep in good shape. Poorly shaped and missing teeth make it hard to eat hay and grass.

Another well known bit of horse lore is that you can tell a horse’s age by its teeth. While you can determine a general age, it isn’t possible to determine the exact age. Many things affect the growth of a horse’s teeth including genetics, diet, general health and habits can affect how the teeth wear. If a horse is losing its teeth you can estimate its age about 2 or 3 years old.

A young horse’s teeth will be concave and growing quite straight out from the gums. An indentation along the outside surface called the Galvayne's groove will appear on the tooth until the horse is about 10 years old. After that it will slowly grow out until it disappears completely. So if the groove is about halfway up the tooth, the horse is about fifteen. If the horse lives long enough the groove will grow out and disappear. As the horse ages, the teeth become more and more angled. An older horse will look almost buck-toothed on top and bottom.

Just like our own, horses need dental care throughout their lives. Sharp edges may need to be smoothed, loose teeth removed or other problems identified and fixed. Once a year should do it for most horses, but a few may need more attention. Your vet can give you the best advice for the care of your individual horse.
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