Always Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth: Part 1

We wanted to write a short little article about your horse’s teeth, but as we were researching, we realized there was more to discuss than we thought!  As it turns out, there’s a lot going on in your horse’s mouth.  In Part 1, we’ll introduce you to the anatomy of a horse’s mouth, and what’s going on with those teeth.  In Part 2, we’ll discuss why your horse requires routine dental work to maintain health and wellness.

OK, so here we go.  Your horse’s teeth, starting from the beginning.

By the time a horse is 2 weeks old, it has 16 baby teeth.  It is important for them to be examined early on.  If a horse is born with an underbite or overbite, it could create challenges while nursing, or lead to a lifetime of dental abnormalities.

horse teeth 1 year diagram
A horse’s teeth at 1 year of age. Image source

By 9 months of age, a horse will have all 24 baby teeth in place.  Most horses will also have 2 wolf teeth and the first set of permanent molars coming in at this age.

Between 2 to 3 1/2 years of age, a horse will be replacing most of his baby teeth with permanent teeth, and growing in additional permanent adult molars.  In a span of 1 1/2 years, a horse will have grown in up to 24 permanent teeth.

horse teeth 2 years diagram
A horse’s teeth at about 2 1/2 years old. Image source

As you can see, there’s a lot of changes going on in your young horse’s mouth.  If you notice them being fussy, unwilling, or uncomfortable, take a peak in their mouth and see what’s going on.  Just like in human infants, having new teeth come in can feel unpleasant or painful.

A horse will lose all of his baby teeth by about 5 years old.  Think about that next time you’re training and bitting young horses – they still have baby teeth and new teeth coming in!  By 6 years old, all 36-40 of the permanent teeth are in position and in use.

horse teeth 5 years diagram
A horse’s teeth at 5 years old. Image source

Horse’s adult teeth are called hypsodont teeth, or long teeth.  This means that there is tooth below the gum’s surface that will emerge and be used throughout the horse’s lifetime.  As a horse chews on their coarse, fibrous forage material, the tooth is worn down, and new tooth will emerge to replace it.  A horse’s teeth are about 4 inches long, with most of the tooth hidden below the surface of the gums.  By considering the average wearing down and replacement of tooth material, experts have calculated that horses have about 25 years of use out of their adult teeth.   As the tooth begins to run out, senior horses become prone to dental problems such as gum disease, diseased roots, fractured teeth, or loose teeth.

horse teeth in skull illustration
A horse’s teeth go beneath the gum line and are about 4 inches long.
horse teeth 10 years diagram
A horse’s teeth at 10 years old. Image source
horse teeth 15 years diagram
A horse’s teeth at 15 years old. Image source
horse teeth 20 years diagram
A horse’s teeth at 20 years old. Image source

Check out Part 2, where we’ll discuss more in detail how the wearing down of a horse’s permanent teeth changes their shape, and what maintenance is required to maintain health.