Smile! Dental care for the horse


File imageMany horses have aged prematurely because their teeth began to fail them, writes Robert N. Oglesby DVM.

Older horses with healthy teeth have far fewer digestive problems and live longer. Proper care early on helps a horse keep his teeth longer. Tooth problems can also cause riding problems.

Tooth care is an important, though often overlooked, aspect of horse care.

Horses’ teeth are different than a human’s in several important aspects:

  1. A horse’s teeth grow throughout his life.
  2. A horse’s teeth do not have a uniform coating of enamel.

As horses chew they wear the softer parts of the teeth quicker than the enamel edges, resulting in sharp edges (points) developing. Most commonly the outer edge of the upper molars and the inner edge of the lower molars lengthen and become sharp. Another common problem is the front of the first upper cheek tooth (P2) becoming long. If these abnormalities are not corrected they will cause problems with the bit, chewing difficulties and may even result in a broken tooth. It is very common to see where the cheek teeth are causing small sores on the inside of the cheeks.

To prevent problems the points on the teeth are filed smooth with a specially designed rasp called a float. The teeth should be checked yearly for wear.

» More on dental health:

Some signs of tooth problems

  1. Trouble chewing
  2. Mouth odor
  3. Lumps of hay in the cheeks (quidding)
  4. Problems with the bit
  5. Excessive salivation (clover can also cause this problem.)


It has been recommended that the incisor’s grinding surface be kept level. The purpose is to keep the molars together as the horse chews from side to side. When the incisors are unlevel they force the teeth apart as the horse chews. Certainly, any horse with severe abnormalities of the incisors could benefit by having this done.

Wolf teeth

» Close up on wolf teeth

Wolf teeth are smallish teeth, about the size of a kernel of corn. They grow in just in front of the large cheek teeth. There is a great difference in opinion about the significance of these teeth and how often they cause problems. Many are probably no problem at all. If too far forward the bit can come into contact with them and they may become sensitive or interfere with the action of the bit. All young horses have problems with their bit from time to time, greatly confusing the subject. On a young horse with biting problems removal may help.

A horse dentist at work.
A horse dentist at work.


Horses also have problems with plaque forming around the base of the canines, causing a remarkable gingivitis if allowed to stay too long. Also tremendous plaque build-up around the molars can occur in horses that quid. Allowing the plaque to eat away at the gingiva results in premature tooth loss.


  • Baby (Deciduous) teeth eruption dates
    • 3 pair upper and 3 pair lower incisors (the biting teeth in front)
      • 1st pair erupt during the first few days after birth
      • 2nd at 4-6 weeks
      • 3rd at 6-9 months
    • 3 pair upper and 3 pair lower cheek teeth (the grinding teeth in back)
      • Erupt in the first 2 weeks
  • Adult teeth and eruption dates
    • 3 pair upper and 3 pair lower incisors
      • 1st pair 2 1/2 years
      • 2nd pair 3 1/2 years
      • 3rd pair 4 1/2 years
    • Canines (not to be confused with wolf teeth) variable 4-5 years
    • Wolf teeth (1st premolar) 5-6 mo but very variable
    • 6 pairs of cheek teeth
      • 2nd premolar 2 1/2 years
      • 3rd premolar 3 years
      • 4th premolar 4 years
      • 1st molar 12 mo
      • 2nd molar 2 years
      • 3rd molar 4 years

This article, which first appeared on in 205, is reprinted with permission from, an information resource for the equestrian and horse industry since 1994.  

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