Horses’ teeth and chewing are fundamental parts of their well-being. Horses are natural grazers and eat for 16 to 18 hours a day; that is why they need strong and healthy teeth.
Our team met with Dr. Michela Longhi, a veterinarian specializing in horse dental care. Let’s find out together everything there is to know about the horse’s teeth and chewing from his dental knowledge and vast experience.
How many teeth do the horses have?
Male horses have 40 teeth and females 36. Specifically, all have 6 incisors above and 6 below, as well as 6 per arch (upper right, upper left, lower right, and lower left).
Of these 6, 3 are pre-molar and the 3 furthest back are molar.
There are 4 canines, males have them and only 20 percent of females, which, because of this, are called “staggered” (from “stagger,” the name in zoology for these teeth).
Other teeth that are not present in all horses, without sex differences but depending on the breed, are called lupines and are accessory pre-molar. Lupins are almost always found in the upper arches, are rudimentary, and are extracted the first time the so-called draw is made because they can be very uncomfortable to the mouth and cause other problems in the management of the horse in activity.
All horses have baby teeth that are obviously lost in the course of growth. In detail, incisors (the two central ones at 2 1/2 years, the later ones at 3 1/2 years, and the more lateral ones at 4 1/2 years) and premolars (they are born “baby” and are changed) are changed, while molars, lupines, and canines are born already permanent.
The chewing of the horse
Horse teeth have the special feature of growing throughout life. They are present inside the skull and emerge over time. Specifically, the outer crown of the tooth makes room on the outside and, as it wears out over time, is replaced with the inner crown.
Horses’ teeth always tend to wear out due to the continuous contact between upper and lower arches during chewing movements and beyond. It is precisely in this way that spikes are physiologically formed, due to the 30° inclination of the various arches.
The tips are formed by the enamel and point toward the cheek (in upper teeth) and toward the tongue (in lower teeth). They recreate themselves regularly and continuously and can be very uncomfortable to chew, create ulcers, sting, and cause a host of other problems that should not be underestimated. The moment the tips reach the point of tearing the mucosa, the discomfort becomes so great that one cannot chew. This causes pain and the inability to chew; it happens to observe accumulations of unchewed food on the ground. Other symptoms could be exaggerated salivation and/or mixed with blood, chewing with tilted head.
A horse’s mouth is healthy if it is tip-free, symmetrical and balanced to avoid chewing and other physiological problems.
Regarding chewing, horses require so-called laterality. They do not move their mouths like humans, up and down, but also sideways. Alterations by conformation or other causes block this laterality, and only the dentist can restore it.
The importance of the dentist for horses
Not all veterinarians can take care of a horse’s teeth; it is best to contact a veterinarian who specializes in dental care.
Experience and manual dexterity are very useful in this delicate field, as are suitable instrumentation and equipment that have evolved over time. Years ago, a farrier’s file was used in horses’ mouths; tool evolutions have led to the use of diamond cutters that allow working the enamel of the horse’s teeth (the hardest and strongest part of its skeleton).
It is important to remember that the tooth is a living tissue and very delicate, to be treated with care. For some individuals, depending on temperament, it may be more or less easy for the veterinary specialist to perform surgery in the mouth.
The first contact with the dentist should be more or less coincident with taming and may change depending on the breed. Man’s intervention on certain breeds has led to major imbalances on the teeth (artificial evolution, small heads). This is precisely why it is very important to keep them under control.
First, at a young age, the horse’s baby teeth are removed. Then, depending on the activities he or she performs and/or the disciplines that engage him or her, the dentist considers how and how much to act.
The one with the dentist, in adulthood, should be an annual routine for the horse. It will be necessary to even out the teeth and remove enamel tips to avoid problems in feeding and training. Dentist intervention is often necessary to remove cavities and to keep those specially conformed mouth types under control.
The horse’s teeth and feeding
Long ago it was customary to give “whole” corn to horses with the belief that they would break their bits, but the habit was totally wrong and had no effect. To understand the futility of this action, one only has to consider that the dentist uses diamond materials on an industrial level to work the hardest part of the horse’s skeleton, namely the enamel, which a food such as corn cannot possibly do.
A careful eye toward nutrition can greatly benefit the health of the horse’s teeth. Horses that feed closer to nature, with their heads positioned downward, are more likely to have healthy teeth and maintain good chewing. Even the most natural foods can contribute to a horse’s well-being.
Within our ranges are some products that meet these needs. We told Dr. Longhi about them at the end of our talk. Thank you very much to you for giving your time and contributing to our education.
Below are the products we discussed:
Veteran, feed line
The Veteran line is designed for horses over 16 years of age, and offers feeds with a softer texture and greater chewability, while retaining nutritional properties within it that are also suitable for active horses and/or horses with chewing problems.