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Older horses Part 2: The horse teeth: how do they work?

Olders horses teeth

Horses first have milk teeth, like humans, which are white in color. After, the permanent teeth appear, these are more yellow in color. A horse starts changing when he is two and a half years old and is ready around the age of five. An adult horse has two types of teeth, incisors and molars. These teeth again consist of three layers, dentine (dental bone), enamel and cement.

How many teeth does a horse have?

A horse has 12 incisors and 24 molars and thus a total of 36 teeth. In addition to incisors and molars, horses, especially stallions and geldings, can also have up to four stallion teeth. Stallion teeth are also called hook teeth or canines. In addition, many horses are born with one or two wolf teeth. This means that the total number can rise from 36 to 42 in total.

A horse's teeth grow throughout their lives. And that is a good thing as the teeth wear out because of the chew (a horse is a trickle feeder). But a small part of the tooth protrudes above the gums, the crown. The tooth grows continuously in the gums so that the used piece can be replaced. The part of the tooth in the gums is a lot longer than the crown. Enough roughage  is therefore not only important for saliva production for the stomach but also because because the teeth are adapted to continuous chewing. Choosing for a horse is very important. Horses chew less often than cows. Cows can repeat chewing the food, horses chew grass and other roughage only once. The molars must therefore grind the roughage in one chew so that it is suitable for further digestion.

Did you know that the upper jaw of a horse is wider than the lower jaw? This is necessary to make slightly circular chewing movements.

Age of a horse’s teeth 

If the age of a horse is unknown, the teeth are used to give an indication. Points that are then looked at is, for example, whether the horse has already completely changed. If that is not the case, the horse will probably be 5 years or younger. But the teeth of a horse can also reveal when the horse is older. The teeth of old horses can be recognized by the yellow color, grown teeth, and various tooth problems in horses such as cracks between teeth, missing or loose teeth, and smooth molars.

Whatever the age of the horse, it is important that the teeth are checked annually by a certified horse dentist. A horse dentist is a protected title, the horse denture caregiver title is not protected. That means that everyone can call themselves a dental carer. Horses can experience a lot of discomfort due to abnormalities in the horse's teeth. Disorders of the horse's teeth are molars, tooth root infections and sharp edges. A horse can show in different ways that it is bothered by its teeth, for example:

  • Protests while riding
  • Doesn’t want to eat anymore
  • Crams the food
  • Finally loses weight (weightloss)

Read more about Older horses Part 3: The teeth of old horses 

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