If there is something recurrent in our equine dentistry practices, it is the surprised face of the owners when placing the mouth opener and the light for the physical examination of the oral cavity. Expressions such as “I didn’t expect it to be so deep”, “how many teeth and how big” or “there’s a gap here, is that normal?” are very common in our clinical practice.

That’s why we want to answer the 10 most common questions our clients ask us in our practice.

1. How many teeth does a horse have?

A horse will have a maximum of 44 teeth. The teeth are divided into incisors, canines, premolars and molars, and some may be missing depending on various factors.

Each type of tooth fulfils a certain function and is present in a certain number:

Incisors: grasping and cutting the feed. A healthy horse will have 6 maxillary (upper) incisors and 6 mandibular (lower) incisors.
Canines: these are commonly known as fangs, and are used as a means of defence. Not all animals have them, but if they do we would find 2 maxillary and 2 lower, one on each side.
Premolars: responsible, together with the molars, for chewing and crushing the food before it passes from the oral cavity to the oesophagus in the form of food bolus. There are generally 8 maxillary and 8 mandibular, 4 on each side. Morphologically, the first premolar is quite striking in comparison with the others because of its size. It is considerably smaller and in some animals it is absent. These are what we know as “wolf teeth”. 
Molars: responsible together with the premolars for chewing and grinding food before it passes from the oral cavity into the oesophagus in the form of food bolus. There are 6 maxillary and 6 mandibular teeth, 3 on each side.

Between the incisors and the premolars (taking into account that the canines may or may not be present in between), there is a wide gap where the gum is exposed. This area is called diastema and it will be the place where we seat the bridle when we are going to ride on the bridle.

I am sure that looking at the veterinary report you will be surprised that sometimes the professional refers to teeth in the form of numbers, and often we do not understand what he is referring to. As shown in the infographic, the nomenclature by numbers is as follows:

  • Starting with 1, teeth in the right jaw.
  • Starting with 2, teeth in the left jaw.
  • Starting with 3, teeth in left jaw.
  • Starting with 4, teeth in the right jaw.

And they are numbered consecutively from the most rostral and central part, so that for example:

  • 101, 102 and 103 are the three upper incisors on the right side.
  • 104 is the upper right canine.
  • 105, 106, 107 and 108 are the four right upper right premolars.
  • 109, 110 and 111 are the three upper right molars.

In the case that a tooth is not present, for example the wolf tooth, we will skip that number but without giving its number to the next tooth, so that it will be clear that this tooth is not present.

 

2. Do foals have baby teeth that fall out?

Horses, like humans, have milk teeth which, at different stages of growth and depending on development and care, will gradually fall out and give way to the permanent dentition.

The milk teeth will be the incisors and premolars, except for the wolf teeth which erupt only once without being replaced, if at all. The rest of the teeth, once they erupt, are the definitive ones.

By the age of about 5 years the horse should have replaced all the milk teeth and be left with the permanent dentition.

 

3. How do horses chew?

Unlike other domestic species such as dogs, whose chewing is very similar to that of humans, horses use only their premolars and molars to chew their food. The jaw articulates with the skull at the temporomandibular joint, which allows the jaw to perform circular movements, rotating from side to side.

The process of mastication is divided into three phases:

Caudo-rostral movement of the jaw while opening the mouth.
Closing of the mouth
Latero-lateral movement of the jaw. It is in this latero-lateral movement that the premolars and molars come into contact with each other and the food is crushed.

4. Why do teeth have to be filed every year?

It is important to know that the teeth of horses, once they present permanent dentition, are growing throughout their lives. This is why the type of feed is essential to ensure correct wear and tear. Otherwise, enamel peaks will form on the surfaces of the teeth which will make it difficult or even impossible to carry out the correct chewing process.

These peaks will cause “stumbling” during chewing that can lead to tooth fall. Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

 

5. Is it strictly necessary to use the mouth opener to open the mouth?

The only way to be able to explore the oral cavity in its entirety and assess the state of the premolars and molars of our patient, both visually and by palpation or using dental material, is through the use of a mouth opener.

The mouth opener is a generally metallic structure that we place on the horse’s head in such a way that when we proceed to open it, it will block the possibility of the jaw closing by means of a mechanical system.

In this way, the veterinary professional can place a torch to visually evaluate and safely palpate piece by piece as well as the oral mucosa, the tongue, the palate and all the structures that make up the oral cavity.

Many horses will allow the mouth opener to be placed, checked and filed without the need for sedation. It is always advisable to get our horses used to this type of procedure so that the veterinary intervention is much gentler and the use of sedative drugs can be avoided.

 

6. Can a horse eat without incisors?

Absolutely yes.

As we have seen in the first question, the incisors perform the function of grasping and cutting the feed, which can easily be done by the lips.

In cases of severe periodontal disease requiring the removal of all the incisors, within hours the horse is fully accustomed to grasping food with the lips, with the tongue helping to direct the food to the premolars and molars for chewing.

 

7. Do horses have wisdom teeth?

The well-known wisdom teeth in humans are those corresponding to the last molar in our species, which, as you know, are present in some individuals and not in others. Moreover, the eruption process can be very prolonged in time, with small outbreaks appearing.

In the case of horses, we could say that the equivalent of wisdom teeth are the wolf teeth, that is, the first premolars.

They may or may not be present and have a slow eruption process. In general, it is recommended that they be extracted as they are small in size, do not contribute to the chewing process and can cause problems in the future.

 

8. What happens if I find a tooth on the floor while cleaning my horse’s stable?

You should immediately contact your veterinarian for a dental examination of your horse. You can send him photos of the tooth so that he can get an idea of what type of tooth it is, and above all to assess whether the tooth has broken or fallen out with its roots attached. And of course, keep it to show at the vet’s surgery.

 

9. Do horses have tartar and should I brush their teeth?

Tartar is bacterial plaque hardened by contact with the minerals in saliva, which solidifies on the teeth. It can accumulate on the edges of the gums and underneath, causing irritation of the mucous membrane and general discomfort.

During the dental check-up, the veterinary professional will remove these accumulations with specific material, but we can help to prevent them through daily care, of course, by regular cleaning.

Consult your veterinarian to recommend the best product for the orobuccal care of your horse.

10. What are the consequences of not taking care of my horse’s mouth?

Poor care of the horse’s mouth can lead to important pathologies. The clinical signs that can be identified are

Weight loss.
Dropping of food.
Unnatural movements of the jaw during chewing.
Presence of undigested food in the faeces.
Hypersalivation.
Colic.
Periodontal disease.
Discomfort and even aggressiveness when working because of not allowing the fillet to be placed.
Cervical pain.

When was the last time your horse had a dental check-up? Does it suffer from any kind of disease as a result of poor care in the past? We’ll read you in the comments!