How Horses Chew
Horses do not chew as people do. They grind their food by sliding their
teeth side to side. The horse opens its mouth slightly and moves the jaw to
one side. As the mouth closes the chewing surfaces shear off or grind their
food. They chew on one side of the mouth at a time. As the jaw returns to
the resting position the chewing surfaces separate. When the front teeth,
or incisors are in contact, there should be no contact between the upper and
Horses chew in this manner because of the anatomy of their mouth. The
upper molars are set wider apart than the lower molars. There is little
overlap of the teeth surfaces. Therefore, chewing in the way that humans
do, would have little affect on their food. This grinding motion causes the
surface of the teeth wear at a 15 degree angle.
Poor Dental Health
Malocclusion is bad contact between the teeth. Horses can
have incisor and/or molar malocclusions. Either type may interfere with
grasping or chewing food and performance. Long standing malocclusions
usually result in premature loss of teeth.
Exaggerated traverse ridges are tall with sharp points on
top. They interfere with normal chewing and jaw motion front to back.
Symptoms of Tooth Problems
Canine tooth problems
Tartar, especially around the canines and the incisors' gumline. This should
be removed to avoid gum infections. Canines can also get fractured.
Decay and endodontic disease - caries
Decay as we see it in humans rarely occur in the horse. This is probably due
to the anatomy of the horses tooth and its ability to produce secondary
dentin to fill in cavities.
Failure of enamel development
Fractures to skull bones
Oral trauma from bit being pulled too hard or reins being stepped on can
cause a part of the jaw bone to be chipped off, this usually won't grow back
in place but will instead be sequestered and lie in the same spot to get
inflammed and painful, and hard pull on the bit or step on the reins can
also seriously damage the tongue. A sequestrum like this should be removed
Fractures to teeth
Horses falling over, being kicked or banging their heads against something
can fracture teeth easily. Clipping of canine teeth and cutting molars can
also cause fracture with later infections to the root and surrounding
tissues. Wolf teeth being broken off during extraction is something that is
not unusal, but it rarely causes any problems as the remains will dissolve
and be taken care of by the body.
Due to injury, teeth buds can have moved to abnormal places
As described in the section of molar and incisor problems, missing teeth can
be caused by and/or will lead to dental and periodontal disease in the
horse. The loss of a tooth can be caused by trauma, it can be genetic or it
might be due to periodontal disease.
Pain in the chewing (masticatory) muscles
There are very powerful muscles that makes it possible for the horse to move
its lower jaw sideways and to close the mouth (chew). There are conditons
that can make these muscles very sore. Myositis is a condition of
inflammation of muscles.
Disease in the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth crown and
reserve crown is called periodontal disease. It is caused by infection and
inflammation, often because for some reason feed has been allowed to pack
into a pocket around the tooth or next to a tooth because of misalignment,
missing teeth etc. Periodontal disease can lead to a large number of
problems with infections, pain, sinusitis, chewing problems and tooth loss
Problems in the temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ)
Prolapse, arthritis, arthrosis, inflammation and pain
This is a very underestimated problem in the horse and it is very painful.
It can cause problems with chewing and being ridden and general behaviour
alterations due to the pain. It can be caused by misalignments of the teeth
pushing the joint to an unnatural position, it can be caused by a mouth
speculum being kept on for too long or in a wrong way, it can be caused by
misfitted tack or a rough rider/driver.................. Constant Arthritis
can lead to degenerative changes in the joint (artrosis)
The anatomy of the head makes the connection between the molars and the
sinuses quite intimate. An infected root and sinusitis has...........The
signs of sinus infection can be swelling and pain of the face, nasal
discharge (normally just from one nostril) and ..................It is
usually treated with antibiotics, but if this is unsuccessful more serous
measures will be made. Making a hole in the sinus from the outside of the
scull (trephan...) and flushing the sinuses with saline water is one
solution, but if the rooth infection can't be cured in any of these ways,
tooth extractions may be a necessity.
Too many teeth in the mouth is usually caused by the teeth buds splitting in
by trauma in the foetal development. It can also be genetic.
The buildup of tartar around the teeth by the gumline is a potential problem
as it can provide conditions for bacterial growth. In the horse this is
mainly a problem around the canine tooth.
In some sports, especially harness racing, it is very common to use a tongue
tie around the horse's tongue to prevent it from sliding back during racing
and preventing airflow. Forgetting to remove a tongue tie after racing may
seriously damage the tongue. The horse can also inflict trauma on itself in
the mouth ie by getting the tongue in the way of the teeth causing wounds,
ulcers or in the worst case I have seen a tounge being bitten off
There are a variety of tumours that can be found in the mouth of the horse
and it can originate from different tissues. Some are benign, others
malignant. Some examples are: Melanomas, Squamous cell carcinomas.
Because the equine teeth forms such sharp edges and points, the soft tissues
in the mouth
Wolf tooth problems
Apart from the problem the wolf teeth can cause for using being sharp when
soft tissue is pressed against it, there are also other problems they can
cause. If they are present, but haven't erupted yet (blind), they can cause
painful swellings (unerupted) on the bars and/or they can be situated in an
abnormal place, all causing bitting problems due to pain. Fractures also
occur, but this seldom makes any trouble as the fragements in time will be
Other painful dental or oral disorders or systemic disorders manifesting in
the mouth. Infections, wounds, inflammation, tumours etc
Equine dentistry is evolving from just floating to
performance dentistry. Interest of horse owners, trainers, and
veterinarians have furthered studies on how the mouth functions and how
dental problems affect performance. Simply removing sharp molar points may
not eliminate all the sources of oral pain. Horses experiencing oral pain
will not perform to their full ability.
Floating is done to make the surface of the horse's tooth
level or smooth. This is accomplished by the removal of sharp points on the
outer edge of upper molars and inner edge of lower molars.
Performance Dentistry includes a floating, comprehensive
oral examination, identification and correction of incisor and molar
malocclusions, and tooth shaping. Tooth shaping of certain molars to
prevent soft tissue damage, which cause oral pain, is an important part of
Here are a few
poems that are slightly different..
Horse's Age by Teeth
To tell the age of any horse
Inspect the lower jaw of course
Two middle nippers you'll behold
Before the colt is two weeks old
Before six weeks two more will come
Twelve months the corners cut the gum
At two the middle nippers drop
At three the second pair cant stop
At four years old the side pair shows
At five a full new mouth he grows
Black spots will pass from view
At six years from the middle two
The side two pairs at sever years
And eight will find the corners clear
The middle nipper upper jaw
At nine the black spots will withdraw
At ten years old the sides are light
Eleven finds the corners white
As time goes on horsemen know
The oval teeth three sided grow
They longer get project before
'Till twenty when we know no more!
|THE AGE OF A HORSE
To tell the age of any horse
Inspect the lower jaw of course;
The six front teeth the tale will tell,
And every doubt and fear dispel.
Two middle nippers you behold
Before the colt is two weeks old;
Before eight weeks two more will come
Eight months: the corners cut the gum.
At two the middle "Nippers" drop:
At three the second pair can't stop;
When four years old the third pair goes,
At five a full new set he shows.
The deep black spots will pass from view
At six years from the middle two;
The second pair at seven years;
At eight the spot each corner clears.
From the middle "Nippers" upper jaw
At nine the black spots will withdraw.
The second pair at ten are bright;
Eleven finds the corners light.
As time goes on the horsemen know
The oval teeth three-sided grow;
Then longer get - project before -
Till twenty, when they know no more."