Your Horses Teeth

It's dental health month!
by Catherine Hall DVM

Spring is just around the corner, and it's time to start thinking about getting our horses back in shape and up to date for the upcoming nice weather.  Whether you are showing, pleasure riding, or just enjoying the company of your horses, don't forget about their teeth... or oral health as we like to put it in fancy terms.

The anatomy of a horse's teeth differs from ours and our other pets such as dogs and cats. In our teeth the entire tooth is wrapped in a blanket of enamel (unless you have a cavity)!

 Horses have radicular hypsodont teeth,
 which means that they are continuously growing and being worn down.
 Horses have rings of enamel within the teeth as opposed to surrounding the teeth like we do.

You may also hear us speak of the crown, reserve crown and roots.
 You can see where these are located on this diagram of the side of a typical horse tooth.

 Permanent horse teeth are very long,
up to 3 inches including from the exposed surface to the roots.
  This is a middle age horse's incisor which was removed.  The paper clip is standard size to give you an idea of how long teeth can be including the root.
  The arrow points to where the gum line was located prior to removal.

So, let's begin with some definitions of terms you may have or will hear us use when talking about your horse's teeth:

Floating: The act of filing points and shaping a horse's teeth as they continuously grow.

:  The very front teeth in horses which are used to bite/grab.  These are the ones which can be easily seen.

Cheek Teeth
:  The side teeth in a horse consisting of pre-molars and molars.

Wolf Teeth
: The first premolars of a horse.  These are not always present and sometimes can cause problems with bitting.  We often removed these at a young age.

Canine Teeth
: Located between the incisor and cheek teeth, these are primarily found in stallions or geldings, but occasionally found in mares.

This picture also demonstrates the length of horse teeth.

:  The term used to separate a horse's mouth into quarters.  There are upper and lower arcades on both sides of the mouth.  A single arcade consists of 3 incisors, 3 pre-molars, 3 molars, and possibly a canine or wolf tooth.

:  The term used for shedding baby teeth, which can at times remain on the permanent teeth before falling off.

Wave Mouth
:  The abnormal growth of teeth where multiple teeth are becoming long.  This can affect the way a horse chews.

:  The abnormal growth of only one tooth which comes down further than all the rest.

:  This is when part of an upper tooth grows excessively long.  It is longer than it is wide.  This is usually seen on the first pre-molar or the corner incisors.

:  This is overgrowth where the tooth is wider than it is long.

:  The alignment of the incisors.  The forebite can have abnormal growth such as slant bites, crowding, and abnormal tooth development.

These pictures are examples of how sharp points on the teeth can cause deep ulcers on the cheeks and tongue.

In this photo an ulcer is present in the cheek ulcer caused by the sharp points on the upper premolar teeth.

In this photo a large ulcer is present on the tongue caused by sharp points on the lower premolar teeth.

These are examples of incisor abnormalities.
This is a horse with a severe slant mouth.  This can occur with congenital abnormalities or just lack of good oral care such as yearly floats.

This is the corrected incisors. Many horses that present with severe abnormalities such as this horse may need to have multiple corrections over several months or years in order to fully correct the problem.

This is a miniature horse with a space problem for the incisors.  Minis can have problems because they are trying to fit standard horse size teeth into a much smaller space.  Routine yearly maintenance keeping the upper teeth from catching on the lower teeth will prevent her from having additional complications.


The next case encompasses several problems, also showing the importance of yearly oral exams.  This is the same miniature horse from the previous case.  The photo of the right arcades show a good wave mouth example.  If you look close, it is obvious that the teeth in the middle of the lower arcade have a downward dip in the middle.

These are the left arcades.
Many abnormalities are present.
The biggest is the fact that she has a severe ramp on the lower second premolar.  There is also a wave present but, it is not as noticeable.
All of these abnormalities likely occurred due to the crowding of her incisors not allowing her teeth to wear normally.

This is the ramp and left arcades after correction.

As horses age, their teeth eventually run
out of reserve crown and become expired.
This is an example of a horse likely nearing the age of 30.
 As you can see, she has very shallow teeth which are almost just shells of the teeth (notice how on the lower left the teeth are almost level with the gum line).  These have become expired.  There is evidence of this on her upper and lower arcades.

 However, these shells (or expired teeth) can get extremely sharp points present.
Don't assume because your horse is older that their teeth don't need to be floated.
Older horses need yearly exams and floats as much, if not more, than young and middle age horses


So, now that you have seen several examples of various abnormalities, let's get those teeth checked!

We hope you have enjoyed this photo tour of the horses mouth. For more information about having your horses teeth floated please call us at 478-825-1981, visit our website at or email us at (Dr. Cook) , (Dr. Hall) or (Teresa Owens)