What’s the Deal with Wolf Teeth?

Whenever we check a new horse, especially a younger one, we look for the presence of wolf teeth. Wolf teeth are typically present just in front of the first cheek tooth, and can be present on both the top (more common) and the bottom jaw. They are numbered 105/205/305/405 and are present in around 70% of horses1. Wolf teeth are remnants from the original horse “Eohippus,” who was a browser and ate more twigs and branches in the forests millions of years ago. As horses evolved and became grazers, their diet changed to mostly grass. Their teeth also changed, and they had less use for these wolf teeth2. They are now what we call “vestigial,” meaning they no longer have a use but still continue to grow.

            Wolf teeth normal erupt between 5-12 months of age. Horses can have anywhere from 1 to 4 wolf teeth, and they can occasionally be blind (meaning they don’t emerge from the gumline but are still present). They generally have a single root, but can be varying lengths and sizes. They sit in the same area as the bit, so we remove them before they cause any training issues. There are varying schools of though on whether or not they should be removed, but we only leave them if the horse is never going to have a bit it their mouth (i.e. broodmares, pasture ornaments, ect). Even though they’re small, they can still fracture or become mobile as the cheek teeth come in and cause issues2. Removing them at a young age is the simplest solution, as they can become fused to the jaw bone with age.

            Removal is usually quite simple, needing only sedation and local lidocaine. The gum and ligaments around the tooth are loosened with a tool called an elevator, allowing the tooth to be removed with forceps. There are some photos from a recent extraction of bilateral wolf teeth at the end of this post. There are very few complications with a complete removal. Occasionally, the root can fracture off, causing a more complicated extraction. It is never acceptable to just break off the crown of the tooth and leave the root. This leaves exposed roots and pulp chambers, which leads to pain and possible infection. It is always good to have your horse up to date on their tetanus vaccine prior to the procedure. Tetanus bacteria live in the dirt and on rusted objects, so horses can pick it up just about anywhere. Infection is almost always fatal.

            Some people confuse wolf teeth with their horse’s canine teeth. The canines are the teeth in front of where the wolf teeth come in. Canines erupt from the gum between 4.5-5.5 years of age, so much later than wolf teeth. They are also much larger than wolf teeth, and very challenging to remove. They are more common in males than females, and can also be blind.

_____________________________________________________Extraction of actual Wolf Teeth performed by AED

Typical Wolf Tooth
Numbing with lidocaine for removal
Elevating around the gum
Wolf teeth post removal

Written by: Dr. Morgan Bosch, DVM

Works Cited:

  1. Texas A&M University. The Horse. “Equine Wolf Teeth.” https://thehorse.com/118149/equine-wolf-teeth/
  2. Equine Dental Vets. “Wolf Teeth- So Why All the Fuss?” http://equinedentalvets.com/articles/wolf-teeth-so-why-all-the-fuss

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