Without nutrition no living thing can survive, for a herbivore's it is vital that they chew their food properly before digestion! A horse's teeth are precious and vulnerable but most horse owners know little about them. To allow a horse to benefit fully from the food we give them their teeth need to be in the best possible condition.
A young horse will lose his milk teeth at between ages 2 and 4 years when they will be replaced by a permanent set. Teeth are not a reliable way of ageing a horse but can give a guide.
- At birth - 3 cheek teeth, temporary premolars.
- 7 - 10 days - 2 central incisors, temporary.
- 4 - 10 weeks - lateral incisors.
- 6 - 9 months - corner incisors.
- 1 year - 4 cheek teeth (3 premolars and the 1st permanent molar), full complement of temporary incisors.
- 2 years - incisors show signs of wear and another permanent molar is present.
- 2 - 3 years - permanent central incisors appear.
- 3 years - central incisors are in wear. 1st and 2nd molars are pushed out by the permanent molars. Wolf teeth often appear.
- 3 - 4 years - lateral incisors appear. Tushes may appear.
- 4 years - lateral incisors are up and in wear.
- 4 - 5 years - corner incisors appear.
- 6 years - corner incisors in full wear.
- 7 years - 'hook' may appear on top corner incisor.
- 8 years - hook levels out.
- 9 - 10 years - Galvayne's groove begins.
- 11/13 years - hook reappears, teeth become rounded with central pulp mark
- 15 years - Galvayne' s groove is half way down the tooth.
Horse's eat for approximately 18 hours a day and will continue to eat even if they have oral discomfort. However, as horses grind the food their molars can wear unevenly. The outside of the top molar teeth and the insides of the bottom ones can develop sharp projections. These sharp edges can cut into the horses cheeks causing pain. The uneven wear can also lead to a horse 'quidding' which is when the horse chews the food but instead of swallowing drops large amounts out of his mouth.
You will know your horse's normal behaviour so if there are any changes make sure to consider that it may be his teeth!
Signs of your horse having trouble with his teeth:
- obvious signs of pain
- not wanting to open his mouth for the bit
- head shaking
- head throwing/head tilting whilst being ridden
- lack of condition or winter weight loss
- longer than normal particles in droppings
- bleeding from mouth
- bad breath
- inability to shift jaw laterally
- cheeks sensitive to pressure against teeth
- bolting and quidding of feed
- slow eating
- eating hay before grain
- dunking hay in water
- hard to bit
- dribbling of feed from mouth
- excessive salivation or drooling
- troubled expression and bad general attitude
- irregular movement of the mandible
- dental cysts or enlargements of the skull (bumps on jaw)
- fistulous discharge from the jaw or face
- discharge from the eye or nose
- sores of the lips, gums or palate and lacerations
- riding problems - rearing, non-contact and lack of concentration
- taking hold of the bit and lack of control
- Caps are the deciduous/ milk teeth.
- Caudal hooks are the overgrowths to the rear of the mouth. They occur when the upper cheek teeth are further forward than the lower ones.
- Diastema - this is the gap between the teeth that often become bigger as the horse ages. If food gets trapped in the gap it can cause infection and gum disease. This can lead to loosening of the tooth!
- Overjet this is when the upper incisors are slightly further forward than the lower incisors.
- Overshot jaw - also called 'parrot mouth' the upper incisors are so far forward of the lower ones that the upper jaw can develop caudal hooks and the lower jaw 'caudal ramps'.
- Rostral hooks are overgrowths to the front of the mouth.
- Steps occur if a horse is missing a tooth the opposite one will continue to erupt but not be worn away - a step! This will affect the ability of the jaw to move and impair the ability to chew.
- Tartar is light brown, organic substance that builds up most often around the canines.
- Ventral curve is when the lower incisors are higher on the corners which gives the appearance of a smile. A Dorsal curve is the opposite.
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