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Dental Development of Horses

By Peter D. Constable, BVSc (Hons), MS, PhD, DACVIM, Dean, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois ; Gordon J. Baker, BVSc, PhD, MRCVS, DACVS, Professor, Equine Medicine and Surgery, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois ; Joseph A. DiPietro, DVM, MS, Vice President for Agriculture, Institute of Agriculture, University of Tennessee ; Walter Ingwersen, DVM, DVSc, DACVIM, Specialist, Companion Animals, Boehringer Ingelheim (Canada) Ltd, Vetmedica ; John E. Madigan, DVM, MS, Distinguished Professor, Department of Medicine and Epidemiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California-Davis ; James N. Moore, DVM, PhD, Distinguished Research Professor, Department of Large Animal Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia ; Michael J. Murray, DVM, MS, Technical Marketing Director, Merial Limited ; Sofie Muylle, DVM, PhD, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Morphology, Ghent University ; Stanley I. Rubin, DVM, MS, DACVIM, Clinical Professor, Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ; Susan D. Semrad, VMD, PhD, DACVIM, Associate Professor, Department of Medical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin ; Josie L. Traub-Dargatz, DVM, MS, DACVIM, Professor of Equine Medicine, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University

Each species of animal has its own unique type of teeth, depending on what food the animal normally eats. For example, a meat-eating animal such as a cat has quite different teeth than a horse, which eats grasses and grains. However, all domestic animals have 2 sets of teeth during their lives, as humans do: a set of deciduous (“baby”) teeth that fall out, and a set of permanent teeth that develop later.

Most horses have 28 deciduous teeth. Mature stallions have 40 to 42 teeth, while mature mares have 36 to 38 teeth. The difference is due to the fact that the canine teeth, which appear at around 4 to 5 years of age, are often not seen in mares. Deciduous teeth appear early—usually within 2 weeks of birth. The first permanent teeth to appear are the first premolars sometimes called “wolf teeth.” They are usually found in the upper jaw; however, they are sometimes found in the lower jaw as well. The permanent molars erupt at about 1, 2, and 3.5 years of age. The replacement of deciduous incisors and premolars by the permanent successors starts at about 2.5 years of age. All permanent teeth are usually present by the time the horse reaches 5 years of age (see Table: Equine Dentition).

Estimation of Age by Examination of the Teeth

In horses, the structure of the teeth allows the age of the animal to be estimated by the eruption times and general appearance of the teeth, particularly the lower front teeth (lower incisors). However, tooth appearance is affected by individual and breed variations and differences in environmental conditions, so it does not provide an exact measure (see Table: Estimation of Age of Adult Horses by Examination of Teeth).

Equine incisor teeth develop certain wear-related visible features that are traditionally used for estimating age. For example, the “dental star” is a yellowish-brown mark that appears at the bite surface as the tooth wears. Its shape and position, as well as the appearance of the white spot in its center, are related to age. The shape, size, and time of disappearance of indentations on the bite surface are additional indicators of age. Progressive dental wear also causes an alteration of tooth shape, and the angle of the teeth changes with age. In young horses, the upper and lower incisors are positioned in a straight line. With increasing age, the angle between upper and lower front teeth becomes sharper as the teeth wear away.

Dental Terms

What Most People Call It

What Your Veterinarian Might Call It

  • Adult tooth

  • Baby tooth

  • Bad breath

  • Bite

  • Cavities or tooth decay

  • Extra teeth

  • Eye teeth

  • Front teeth

  • Gum

  • Gum disease

  • Lower jaw

  • Roof of the mouth

  • Root canal

  • Tartar

  • Teeth cleaning

  • Uneven bite

  • Upper jaw

  • Wolf teeth

  • Permanent tooth

  • Deciduous tooth

  • Halitosis

  • Occlusion

  • Dental caries, tooth infection

  • Polyodontia

  • Canines

  • Incisors and canines

  • Gingiva

  • Periodontal disease, periodontitis

  • Mandible

  • Palate

  • Endodontic treatment

  • Calculus

  • Dental prophylaxis

  • Malocclusion

  • Maxilla

  • First premolars

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