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Dental Development of Horses

By

Jack Easley

, DVM, MS, DABVP (Equine)

Last full review/revision May 2019 | Content last modified Jun 2019
Topic Resources

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.

Table
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Equine Dentition

Type of Tooth

Number (Upper/Lower)

Age (Years) at Eruption

Function

Incisors

6/6

2.5 to 4.5

Grasping and cutting

Canines

2/2

4 to 5

Premolars

6 to 8/6

2.5 to 4 (wolf teeth at 6 months)

Grinding (wolf teeth nonfunctional)

Molars

6/6

1 to 4

Grinding

Most horses have 24 deciduous teeth. Mature stallions have 40 to 44 teeth, while mature mares have 36 to 40 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. Wolf teeth are not always present, and they usually erupt at approximately 5 to 6 months of age. The permanent molars erupt at about 1, 2, and 4 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).

Table
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Estimation of Age of Adult Horses by Examination of Teeth

Age (Years)

Distinguishing Dental Wear Pattern

5

Middle incisors worn flat; outer incisors beginning to wear

6

“Cup” (black cavity) gone from middle of central incisor

7

All lower incisors level; cup gone from next to last incisor on each side; telltale “hook” on edge of upper outermost incisors (wears off in 2 years then reappears at age 11); color changes from yellow to bluish white

8

Dental “stars” appear on central incisors; cup gone from outermost incisors; the “star” is the darker dentin that fills the pulp cavity as the tooth wears

9

Center incisors are rounded

10

Next to last incisor on each side is rounded; Galvayne’s groove emerges on outermost upper incisors

15

Dental stars round, dark, and distinct; Galvayne’s groove halfway down outermost upper incisor

16

Innermost incisor is triangular in cross section

17

Second from last incisor on each side is triangular

Table
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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

    Cheek teeth

  • Gum

  • Gum disease

  • Lower jaw

  • Roof of the mouth

  • Root canal

  • Tartar

  • Teeth cleaning

  • Uneven bite

  • Upper jaw

  • Wolf teeth

    Floating

  • Permanent tooth

  • Deciduous tooth

  • Halitosis

  • Occlusion

  • Dental caries, tooth infection

  • Polyodontia

  • Canines

  • Incisors and canines

    Premolars and molars

  • Gingiva

  • Periodontal disease, periodontitis

  • Mandible

  • Palate

  • Endodontic treatment

  • Calculus

  • Dental prophylaxis

  • Malocclusion

  • Maxilla

  • First premolars

    Odontoplasty

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 (called "cups" and "marks") 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.

For More Information

See professional content regarding dental development.

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