Frequently Asked Questions Concerning Equine Dentistry
If my horse only has a few teeth left, does he still need regular dental exams?
How do dental care needs change as a horse ages?
Can certain teeth be expected to fall out earlier than others under normal circumstances?
Does a person have to be a veterinarian to be an equine dentist?
How many teeth does a horse have?
When do baby horses get their first teeth?
Does teething hurt? What can I do about it?
What are "caps?"
What happens to baby teeth when the horse loses them?
At what age does a horse acquire all his permanent teeth?
How often should a horse have a dental exam?
What are "wolf teeth?" Are they the same as "canine teeth?"
After what age does it become difficult to "age" a horse by looking at his teeth?
How often do horses get cavities?
What is the difference between "hooks" and "points?"
What is a "ramp?"
What does the dentist mean when he says a horse "smiles?"
What is meant by the term "Performance Dentistry?"
Can a tooth grow longer than normal?
Sept 10, 2005
Before dental work, diet inappropriate for dental condition
November 19, 2005
Following first dental session,
fed soft diet
Q: If my horse only has a few teeth left, does he still need regular dental exams?
A: YES!!! If your horse is missing any teeth, then dental exams actually need to be MORE frequent. This is because the tooth that is opposite the missing tooth will grow extra long because it is not being worn down anymore. As the tooth length extends past the length of the other teeth, it makes the horse's normal circular chewing motion impossible, leading to pain, poor nutrition, and a "snowball effect" of other dental problems. Some of these teeth get so long that they cut into the opposite gum and can even cause severe infections of the sinus cavity or mandible. A general dental exam schedule for a horse missing any teeth is every 6-9 months.
Q: How do dental care needs change as a horse ages?
A: As horses age they are subject to more problems with their teeth. The teeth erupt continuously during their lives, but only for as long as the root can provide. In most horses, this can be up to 35 years or so, but only when proper dental care has been provided throughout their lives. Without proper care, the teeth become vulnerable to excessive wear, pockets between the teeth that collect feedstuffs, and pain. Loose and missing teeth are also common in older horses.
Q: Can certain teeth be expected to fall out earlier than others under normal circumstances (if there is such a thing?)
A: The "oldest" tooth in the adult equine mouth is the first molar. The molars are not preceded by "baby teeth" and the first molars erupt at 1 year of age. Since they are the oldest teeth, the first molars are the most susceptible to being worn down first.
Q: Does a person have to be a veterinarian to be an equine dentist?
A: The answer to this question varies from state to state. In some states, an equine dentist does not have to be a veterinarian or even have any formal training in dentistry to float teeth! In other states, the non-veterinarian dentist must be supervised by a veterinarian. And in other states, a person must be a veterinarian to perform any equine dentistry. Differences also exist among states when it comes to qualifications necessary to extract teeth. In all states, however, a veterinarian must administer or dispense any medications (like sedation) to a patient. The bottom line... ask questions to find out your dentist's qualifications and privileges to practice dentistry in your state.
Q: How many teeth does a horse have?
A: An adult horse has up to 44 teeth:
12 incisors- 6 upper and 6 lower
0 - 4 canines- male horses and some mares get canines, 1 each on the left and right upper and lower arcades
0 - 4 wolf teeth (technically, the first premolar)- some horses get them, some don't, 1 each on the left and right upper and lower arcades, upper wolf teeth are by far more common than lower wolf teeth
12 more premolars- 3 each on the left and right upper and lower arcades
12 molars- 3 each on the left and right upper and lower arcades
Q: When do baby horses get their first teeth?
A: The first 4 teeth (upper and lower central incisors) start erupting within the first 2 weeks.
Q: Does teething hurt? What can I do about it?
A: Occasionally a horse may eat slowly or chew funny for a day or two, but usually there is no apparent discomfort.
Q: What are "caps?"
A: Caps are the baby teeth. They are called caps because they do not have deep roots like the permanent teeth and when the permanent tooth pushes the cap off, it looks like it was a "hat" sitting on top of the new tooth.
Q: What happens to baby teeth when the horse loses them? (What happens if he swallows them?)
A: Sometimes the horse will leave them in the feed bucket, but they probably swallow them frequently. The teeth will not hurt the digestive system as they pass through.
Q: At what age does a horse acquire all his permanent teeth?
A: All of the permanent teeth are in by 5 years of age.
Q: How often should a horse have a dental exam?
A: Young (<5 years) and older (> 20 years) should have exams every six months because they are more prone to have problems. An average adult horse with no dental abnormalities should have annual exams.
Q: What are "wolf teeth?" Are they the same as "canine teeth?" Why are they removed in some horses, but not others?
A: Wolf teeth and canine teeth are different. The canine teeth are the teeth that are just behind the incisors. They correspond to human canines- the most pointy of our teeth. If your horse had a bit in his mouth, the canine teeth (if present) would be in front of the bit. They are relatively large teeth with large roots. Male horses and some mares get canine teeth. The length of the canine teeth can be reduced by filing or cutting, but they are only removed if they are broken or diseased.
Wolf teeth are actually the first premolar of each arcade. In humans, this would be the tooth behind the pointy
canine tooth. They are often small teeth with small roots in the horse. When a bit is in the horse's mouth, it would rest on the upper wolf teeth (if present). Since the teeth and the roots are small, the bit may cause pain in this area as is rocks back and forth on the wolf tooth, so they are usually removed.
Q: After what age does it become difficult to "age" a horse by looking at his teeth?
A: Aging can be done with a higher degree of accuracy until the horse is about 15 years old. Keep in mind that differences in breed, feed types, and vices (such as cribbing) can make individuals look older or younger than they actually are.
Q: How often do horses get cavities?
A: Since the horses' teeth erupt and wear down continually during their lives, cavities are not a common problem. Problems that are more common in horses include broken teeth and infected tooth roots.
Q: What is the difference between "hooks" and "points?"
A: When vets and equine dentists talk about "points", they are generally talking about the sharp edges on the outer surfaces of the upper cheek teeth and on the inner edges of the lower cheek teeth. When they talk about "hooks", they are referring to the chewing surface of a tooth (the first or last upper or lower cheek tooth) that starts out flat then becomes very long at a steep angle. The first upper cheek tooth is commonly possesses a hook and it often resembles the shape of a bird's beak.
Q: What is a "ramp?"
A: A "ramp" is what is formed when a tooth (or adjacent teeth) gradually get longer. Ramps, like hooks, often occur on the first or last cheek teeth. In profile, these teeth are actually the shape of a ramp.
Q: What does the dentist mean when he says a horse "smiles?"
A: A "smile" refers to a pattern that occurs on the incisors. The horse has 6 upper and 6 lower incisors. When viewed from the front, the upper and lower incisors should touch and form a straight line between them. When the upper central incisors and lower outer incisors become long, a "smile" forms instead of that straight line. The reverse is also true- if the outside upper incisors and the central lower incisors become long, then the line between them becomes a "frown". A third common incisor pattern is a "slant" which is when the line formed between the upper and lower incisors is diagonal instead of horizontal.
Q: What is meant by the term "Performance Dentistry?"
A: Used literally, the term "Performance Dentistry" is applied to dental procedures that are specific to the comfort of performance horses. This is important because performance horses work with a bit (or sometimes 2 bits!) in their mouth. The teeth affected by the bits can be shaped to minimize discomfort while the bit is in. Careful examination of the oral cavity can also tell if the fit of the bridle or bit is incorrect.
Veterinarians and equine dentists also use the term "Performance Dentistry" to imply that the dental procedures they provide are, in general, of a higher level of expertise than "just a float". Equine dentistry has come a long way in the past 10 years or so, and many veterinarians have had specialized training in dental procedures. If your horse has special needs, be sure that you have the correct professional to address them correctly.
A: Yes, it can, and that can cause severe problems for the horse. The horse's teeth erupt through the gums continually throughout their lives. The length and the alignment of the teeth are kept "normal" by chewing and routine floating. If, for example, a horse is missing a tooth or has poor alignment of the teeth, then chewing may not wear down the other teeth normally. Those teeth can become overgrown to the point where they even dig into the opposing gum. This can even cause infections of the bones and sinuses of the horse. With routine dental exams and treatment, proper alignment of the teeth can be maintained and the consequences of missing teeth or poor confirmation can be avoided.
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NOTE: Material presented by Traveller's Rest Equine Elders Sanctuary on equineelders.org or in any other manner is for information purposes only. It is in no way intended to replace the services or advice of your veterinarian.