Dental check-up

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Dental check-up and
determining age

You can find more about horses here

All horses have their teeth examined at least once
a year by a veterinarian or well-trained equine dentist to
see whether they have developed any sharp edges which might
make chewing, or responing to the bit, painful. In the case
of horses being asked to perform very precise work such as
dressage, it may be necessary to check them more often than
this because even the slightest discomfort may cost vital

The problem is that the horse’s molar, or cheek, teeth of
the upper and lower jaws meet with an awkward grinding
surface. It slopes upwards from the outside (or cheek
surface) of the teeth up to the inside (or tongue surface)
of the teeth. If the upper and lower jaw just opened and
closed, this would not create any problems. As it is,
however, the horse moves its jaws around from side to side
in order to grind the food before swallowing it. This
grinding action also grinds the teeth and can result in
extremely sharp cusps or edges developing. These sharp
edges develop on the outside edge of the upper molar teeth,
and the inside edge of the lower molar teeth.


Dental problems, from
painful points to rotting teeth, may cause difficulty
chewing or “quidding,” which occurs when food falls out of
the mouth. Other signs of dental disease may include foul
breath, undigested hay in the stools, or discomfort from
the bit or noseband. Dental disease can lead to choke,
colic, and weight loss.

Some horse owners think the teeth problems only arise in
old horses. It is certainly tree that their effect is
particularly marked in old horses. The combination of
discomfort during chewing and reduced digestion of
improperly chewed food can resullt in a thin old horse
which will not eat at all. Nevertheless, even young horses
have teeth and chew food with them, so even young horses
can develop problems.

If an examination does reveal sharp tooth edges, your
veterinary sugeon will rasp or file the teeth to get them
smooth and even again. It is usually more effective to do
this using a device called a gag to hold the horse’s mouth
open and so preventing it from holding the rasp firmly
between its jaws. The gag also enables a proper examination
of the mouth and teeth to be carried out.


Birth: only the two
nippers or central incisors appear

One year old: all the
incisors of the first or milk set of teeth are visible

Three years old:
permanent nippers/incisors have come through

Four years old:
permanent dividers next to the nippers have emerged

Five years old: the
mouth is perfect, the second set of teeth having been
completed, including the canines

Six years old: the
hollow under the nippers, called the mark, has disappeared
from the nippers, and diminished in the dividers

Seven years old: the
mark has disappeared from the dividers, and the next teeth,
or corners, are level, though showing the mark

Eight years old: the
mark has gone from the corners and the horse is said to be

After eight years,
indeed good authorities say after five years, the age of a
horse can only be conjectured. Dishonest dealers sometimes
“bishop” the teeth of old horses, that is scoop them out,
to imitate the mark: but this can be known by the absence
of the white edge of enamel which always surrounds the real
mark, by the shape of the teeth, and other marks of age
about the animal. The wear of teeth may also be affected by
diet, natural abnormalities, and cribbing.

Other dental estimators of age

Cups: are hollow and
rectangular or oval in shape, appearing on the tables of
the permanent incisors, that wear away over time. In
general, cups are worn away on the lower central inscisors
by age 6, the lower intermediates by age 7, and corners at
age 8. The cups of the upper central incisors are worn away
by 9 years of age, the upper intermediate incisors by 10,
and the corners by 11. When all the cups are gone, the
horse is referred to as “smooth mouthed.”

Pulp mark / Dental
: After some wear has occured on the teeth, the
central pulp cavity is exposed, and the tooth is marked by
a “dental star” or “pulp mark.” These begin as a dark line
in front of the dental cup, which grows in size and becomes
more oval in shape as the cups are worn away. Dental stars
are usually first visable at age 6, on the animal’s lower
central incisors, and very visable by age 8. They appear on
the lower intermediates by age 9, and on the other incisors
between the ages of 10-12 years.

Hook/Notch: A hook
appears on the upper corner incisor around age 7, and
dissapears by age 8. It reappears around age 13, again
dissappearing about 1 year later.

Galvayne’s Groove:
The Galvayne’s groove occurs on the upper corner incisor,
producing a vertical line, and is helpful in approximating
the age of older horses. It generally first appears at age
10, reaches half-way down the tooth by age 15, is
completely down the tooth at age 20. It then begins to
dissappear, usually half-way gone by age 25, and completely
gone by age 30.

Lower jaw shape:
Older horses may appear to have a lean, shallow lower jaw,
as the roots of the teeth have begun to dissappear. Younger
horses may seem to have a lumpy jaw, due to the presence of
permanent teeth within the jaw.

Angle and Shape of the
: As the horse ages, the angle of the
incisors generally becomes more acute, slanting forward.
The incisors gradually change their form as the horse ages,
becoming round, oval, and then triangular.