Learn About Your Horse's Teeth

Front teeth of horse in skull.
Horse front teeth. Eliens/Pixabay
  • 01 of 09

    Your Horse's Teeth

    Iceland, eskifjordur, Portrait of Icelandic horse by lake
    Horse showing front incisors. Image Credit:atliegilsson/RooM /Getty Images

    Take a look into your horse’s mouth and you’ll see a lot of teeth in there. On average, horses have between 36 and 42 teeth. The number is dependent on the gender of the horse, and whether or not the horse develops extra teeth along the bars of its mouth—the empty space between the front teeth and rear teeth where the bit sits. Your horse also has a number of different types of teeth. And, throughout its life, it will have two different sets of teeth, just like we do. Specific wear and growth patterns can help us determine the approximate age of a horse. Here’s what you should know about your horse’s teeth. 

    Continue to 2 of 9 below.
  • 02 of 09

    Types of Horse Teeth: Deciduous Teeth

    Yawning yearling colt.
    This yearling still has its baby teeth. Image Credit:Angela Medler/E+ /Getty Images

    The deciduous teeth, milk or baby teeth are the first set of teeth that grow in a foal's mouth. These teeth may be apparent when the foal is born. Shortly after the young horse’s second birthday, these teeth are pushed out by the permanent adult teeth as they grow in. There are 24 in all and they are usually replaced entirely by the horse is about five years old. Occasionally, a young horse may need help shedding baby teeth. The ‘caps’ as they are called, may not fall out as they should, and may have to be removed by a veterinarian or equine dentist. 

     

    Continue to 3 of 9 below.
  • 03 of 09

    Types of Horse Teeth: Permanent Teeth

    horseteeth.jpg
    The approximate age of a horse can be determined by the condition and growth of its teeth. Image Credit:John P Kelly/Getty Images

    The permanent or adult teeth continue to grow for most of the horse’s life. These are the ones we look to when we want to learn the approximate age of a horse. When a horse gets really old, the tooth growth ends, and the horse may develop gaps where teeth fall out. This can lead to problems like weight loss and quidding.  

     

    Continue to 4 of 9 below.
  • 04 of 09

    Types of Horse Teeth: Wolf and Canine Teeth

    Horse opening mouth with bit.
    The extra teeth just behind the incisors can be seen in this horse's mouth. Image Credit:Moment /Gail Shotlander /Getty Images

    As the foal matures, and again at about four or five years of age, some horses may get extra teeth in the inter-dental gap that we call the bars of the mouth.  Canine and wolf teeth are slightly more common in stallions and geldings than in mares. They may only grow into the upper jaw, or they may grow in both the  upper and lower jaw. Because these teeth can cause discomfort, especially when holding a bit, they can be removed. These teeth can sit beneath the gums in some horses, be quite small so they are barely visible or quite pronounced. These teeth tend to be smaller in mares than in stallions or geldings. 

     

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Types of Horse Teeth: Incisors

    Horse's (Equus sp.) teeth, close-up
    Close up of front incisors. Image Credit:Reza Estakhrian/The Image Bank /Getty Images

    Your horse’s front teeth are called incisors. These are the ones that clip the grass efficiently as it grazes. They’re also the first ones to appear as the milk teeth grow in and the first to be shed as the permanent teeth push through. These teeth are the ones easiest to see, so it’s from these that a horse’s age is estimated. You cab learn more about how to estimate age in How to Tell a Horse's Age By Its Teeth.

    These teeth will grow out to replace the gradual erosion caused by cropping fodder containing grit and other abrasives. Incisors can also be damaged by blows that can crack the tooth, just like human teeth can be damaged. All horse teeth are deeply rooted, and the roots can curve well back into the jaw bone. Horses have six incisors top and bottom, for a total of twelve in all.  

     

    Continue to 6 of 9 below.
  • 06 of 09

    Types of Horse Teeth: Premolars and Molars

    Xray of horse skull, showing teeth.
    The premolars and molars start behind the toothless bar of the jaw. Image Credit: Nick Veasey/Getty Images

    The premolars or cheek teeth sit directly behind the bars of the mouth. These teeth help to grind food before it is gathered into a bolus at the back of the throat and swallowed. The cheek teeth are wider than the incisors and the horse moves its jaws sideways to grind grass, hay or grains. These teeth convert fodder like grass or hay into lengths of about 3/8  of an inch ( slightly less than 10 mm) long. If you see pieces of grass or hay in a horse’s manure that is longer, it could indicate a dental problem that is making it hard for your horse to chew properly. All of your horse’s teeth grow about 1/6  to 3/32 of an inch (2-3mm) per year. The amount of wear depends on the type of soil the horse is grazing on, and the type of fodder, as well as the health, habits and genetics of the horse itself.

    Premolars and molars are very deeply rooted in the horse’s jaw bone. In the lower jaw, the extend to the bottom of the bone. There are a three pre-molars and three molars top and bottom, for a total of twenty-four.  Very rarely, a horse may have an extra molar. 

     

    Continue to 7 of 9 below.
  • 07 of 09

    How Horses Use Their Teeth

    Camerague Horses Fighting
    Horses use their teeth for defence and attack. Image Credit:Picture Press RM /Getty Images

    Incisors are used for clipping grass and picking up food. Premolars are used for grinding it all up before the horse swallows. But teeth have two other uses. Teeth can be used as a weapon. A horse may nip if annoyed, or may bite hard if it is  defending itself from or attacking other horses or predators. Horses may play bite and this is common in youngsters. Teeth are also a grooming tool. They can be used to scratch itches, or may be used in allogrooming, when horses nibble on each other along the top of the neck, withers, back and hindquarters. Some horses are clever at using their teeth and lips to unfasten door latches or untie knots in ropes or may enjoy carrying objects around with their teeth. 

     

    Continue to 8 of 9 below.
  • 08 of 09

    Common Dental Problems

    A female veterinarian, pointing at the incisors of a male horse. Please note the broken incisor in front.
    Incisors of an older adult horse, with a broken tooth. Image Credit:an-Otto/E+ /Getty Images

    Horses are prone to several tooth problems. These problems can result in poor health, weight loss, difficulty carry a bit, have have behavior or performance problems when ridden or driven. Horses can have cracked, loose or broken teeth from an accident. The baby teeth may not shed properly, and need the attention of a dentist or veterinarian. Uneven wear can cause sharp edges and hooks that require smoothing down to prevent irritation to the inside of the cheeks or tongue. Some horses have misaligned jaws and can be under shot or overshot, also caused parrot mouthed, causing wear and chewing problems.

    Teeth can become infected and abscesses in the jaw can form if debris or plaque causes problems.  Because the roots of some of the molars extend near the sinus cavity, some infections can appear to be sinus problems. The yellowish, or brownish color of the teeth is normally. They don’t stay pearly white because they are stained by the foodstuffs they chew. However, the gums should appear healthy pink. Any change of color can mean a health problem or specific dental problem. 

     

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Dental Care

    Vet performing horse dentistry
    A veterinary doctor inspects and cleans a horses teeth. Image Credit:Mypurgatoryyears/E+ /Getty Images

    Horses need regular dental check-ups like people do. How often a dentist or veterinarian needs to check a horse’s mouth is determined by the horse itself. Generally, once a year is sufficient. But, some horses because of ongoing problems, or the shape and size of its mouth may need more frequent checks.  When your horse’s teeth are checked, its age will be taken into account, since some problems such as caps, hooks and points are related to age. Your horse may need a bit seat, or even need teeth removed. And, when an older horse starts having problems grinding food due to worn or missing teeth, a veterinarian can help you determine the best diet for your horse.