Determining a Horse’s Age by its Teeth

: We are often called out by clients to check a horse they are interested in purchasing before they buy. As part of a pre-purchase exam, all horses should have their dentition checked. We have found broken teeth, broken jaws that have healed, and severe dental and oral diseases during these pre-purchase exams. One of the main things our clients are interested in knowing is the horse’s true age. We often see horses that sellers claim are 10-12 years old; in actuality, they are closer to 20 years in age based on their teeth.

            Horses are characterized as grazing animals, meaning they are designed to eat mostly grass. Horses generally graze upwards of 10 hours a day in the wild, eating lower quality forages. Horses are also designed to eat with their heads down. Feeding out of raised feed tubs can lead to numerous dental issues, so we encourage clients to feed in tubs off the ground, hay included. You can also use low-hanging hay nets if your horse is stalled during the day or there isn’t much grass in the field. Changing a horse’s natural way of eating can also affect how their teeth wear.

            Foals have a set of deciduous, or “baby,” teeth. They get a full set of incisors and the first 3 premolars before shedding those and developing their permanent dentition. Foals can be born with their first deciduous incisor already erupted, or it may erupt shortly after birth. Their remaining incisors erupt at 4-6 weeks, and 6-9 months, respectively. The deciduous premolars erupt within the first 2 weeks 1. Teeth are considered “in wear” when they come into contact with the tooth opposing it. (insert picture of younger horse teeth). Occasionally, these baby teeth (also called “caps”) can become retained as the permanent teeth emerge. Fortunately, they are typically easy to remove with a little elbow grease and don’t cause any long-term damage or cosmetic effects. If left, however, they can form longer roots and make for some interesting looking smiles.

            The permanent teeth begin erupting at 2 ½ years, with the central incisors, and continue outward each year. All permanent incisors are fully erupted between 4 ½ – 5 years. The canines erupt around 5 years of age. The shape of the incisors also helps determine a horse’s age. Horses less than 11 years old have a rounder shape to their incisors2. As the horse ages, the incisors develop a more triangular shape, with older horses having almost a cheesecake appearance.  (insert comparative picture of young vs old)

            Teeth are made up of cementin, dentin, and enamel. As the horse eats and ages, the teeth get worn down in a set pattern. The “cup” is the center of the infundibulum, which is a groove on the tongue side of the tooth (see picture). Wear of the occlusal, or chewing, surface causes the cup to get smaller, and eventually disappear from all lower incisors between 6-8 years of age beginning with the central incisor. This leaves the “enamel spot” in its place. The enamel spot is the deepest part of the infundibulum. The “dental star” corresponds with the pulp cavity and appears at 8 years of age in the first incisor. It appears as a line and then changes to a large, round spot as the occlusal surface is worn further. It is still visible after the cup and enamel spot have been worn away2.

            Galvayne’s (pronounced Gal-veins or Gal-vey-nees) groove is useful in the older horse to estimate age. It appears near the gumline of the third incisor around 10 years of age, progressing to half way down at 15 years, and completely to the bottom of the tooth around 20 years. The groove then regresses from the gumline, progressing halfway down by 25 years. By 30 years old, the groove is completely gone2. (insert groove picture with age) 

            By combining all of these indicators, we are able to narrow down a horse’s age to within a few months to years. Some horses do have individual variation, such as the 25 year old pony whose teeth look like she’s in her teens, or the 14 year old horse who looks like he’s 20. Bad habits such as cribbing can also prematurely wear down the incisors and make a horse appear older. If you have a question about your horse’s true age, give us a shout at 727-484-4473!

Written by: Dr. Morgan Bosch, DVM

Works Cited

  1. AAEP powerpoint Horse Health Education: Dental Care
  2. Rouge, Melissa. VIVO Pathophysiology- Aging Horses by Their Teeth.

Why Equine Dentistry is Important

How often should my horse have his teeth floated? Why should my horse have his teeth floated? These are questions many horse owners have asked themselves over the years. Current recommendations by the Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) vary with the age of the horse. Foals under a year old should have their mouth conformation checked at birth (to check for cleft palates and jaw conformation), at 3 months, and then every 6 months thereafter. The first deciduous, or “baby,” teeth can erupt before the foal is born. The last deciduous teeth appear around 8 months of age1. It is important to check foals for the development of an over/underbite and other malformations, so they can be managed appropriately before the permanent teeth form. Horses’ teeth erupt at a rate of around 1/8th of an inch per year1. Horses from ages 1-20 years old should have their teeth checked every 6 months, ideally, with 12 months being the maximum amount of time between dental exams. After age 20, the teeth erupt at a slower rate and horses can be examined yearly, as long as nothing changes with their eating habits. Older horses are more prone to breaking or losing teeth as the teeth weaken and the roots get shorter and shorter. There are also numerous diseases that can develop as the horses ages. If your horse has had a tooth removed as any point in its life, they should be floated every 6 months to prevent future problems.

So, what are these hooks and ramps I lured you in here with? A “hook” is an elongated enamel point most often located on the first upper premolar, although they can occur on the last molar in some cases (see image below). Hooks form when horses don’t have proper dental care. In some cases, the bit can get caught behind the hook and cause issues while riding. Even small hooks can jar the bit while riding. In addition, hooks can interfere the motion of the jaw and lead to difficulty chewing.

Example of Hooks in the equine mouth

A “ramp” is an abnormal upward sloping of tooth (think of a ski ramp). These are most often seen in the last lower molars, although they can also be seen on the first lower premolars as a “reverse ramp” (see image below). Ramps are often seen in conjunction with hooks, as a result of improper dental care. When combined, these two over growths can lock the jaw from moving back and forth, resulting in weight loss and performance issues.

A horse’s jaw in designed with the top set of teeth wider than the bottom set. In the wild, the horse’s natural chewing motion and the types of forages they eat work to wear down their teeth uniformly. Domesticated horses rarely eat as they would in the wild, resulting in most of the common issues we see during routine dentals. Because of their mouth conformation, horses develop what we call “sharp buccal edges.” This simply means that the outer edges of the upper teeth and the inner edges of the lower teeth become sharp and can cause cuts to the cheeks and tongue. If we do find some cuts in your horses’ cheeks, it’s usually nothing to worry about. Once the sharp points are taken care of, the mouth generally heals within 7-10 days.

            Our practice recommends dental exams every 6 months to catch any potential issues before they become real problems. This also works in conjunction with Florida’s vaccine recommendations, so many owners take advantage of the trip to do everything at once. If you have further questions, or would like to schedule an appointment, please contact us at 727-484-4473

Written by: Dr. Morgan Bosch, DVM

Microchips…..A service we are happy to provide to AED clients!

Microchip technology is being used increasingly for horses and is a means of lifetime identification.  Each chip number is unique with characters that designate the manufacturer, the country of origin, and the horse registered with the chip insertion.  Currently, the USEF, USHJA, FEI, and Jockey Club require micro-chipping of any horse in their registries and most other registries are quickly following suit.  A microchip does not contain a power source, so they do not expire and are readable with handheld scanners throughout the life of your horse.  Along with horse identification for registration, microchips serve as protection in situations of loss or theft that allows for recovery and proof of ownership .  Microchips are an easy way to protect your horse and Advanced Equine Dentistry is happy to provide this service to our clients and their beloved equines!

We are still making appointments…

The Advanced Equine Dentistry Staff hopes that all of our clients are safe and healthy! We wanted you to know that we are working as we are a veterinary practice, always wear gloves and masks, AND can easily maintain 6 foot distances from you during our procedures. But, we also wanted you to know that if you’d prefer to remain in your home for your horse’s appointment, you may put them in an easily accessible area (stall or small paddock) and we will certainly handle them for you. We are able to take credit card payments by phone or you can leave a check at the time of your visit. Just let us know when we call to confirm if you need and special arrangements and we can help you take care of your horses and stay safe! Take care!

What is “wellness”?

For humans, the World Health Organization defines wellness as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well being, and not merely the absence of disease”. When we talk about “equine wellness” in our practice, it goes beyond dentistry. We know that each of our clients acts as their horse’s guardian and that overall, their goal is a healthy and happy horse. Because the ability to eat is so vital to that outcome, our practice is structured to provide excellent dentistry utilizing technical skill, professional equipment, and procedures designed to produce less stress on both your horse’s teeth and on their mind. At the same time, we focus on other services to promote that desired state of health such as parasite management, nutritional counseling, body scoring, routine vaccinations, skin care, wound care, pain relief, and client education. Advanced Equine Dentistry and our veterinary staff are proud to be a partner in attaining equine wellness for thousands and thousands of clients. We’d be happy to meet your horse and become your partner too!

Happy Holidays!

The Advanced Equine Dentistry team wishes their clients the happiest holiday season and hopes that your celebrations include some precious time with your equine partners. We will be working a few days over the next two weeks….with some much needed relaxation and celebrating occurring too! In the office, we will check for messages daily and keep up with emails, so please contact us if you have an emergent dental condition or concern. Our January schedule is packed; if you need an appointment next month, be sure to call us asap so we can work you in!

Horse happiness!

Happy Holidays….please book early!

As we all get ready for some amazing times with our families and friends this season, please remember that here at AED, it gets really busy when our clients have time off from work.  We would love to meet all of your equine dentistry needs this season, so please call us and schedule your December appointment asap. The calendar is filling fast!

horse christmas

New equipment for better care of your horses!

Advanced Equine Dentistry has recently purchased a new Cold Laser system to replace our older model and our staff is busy updating their training!  Laser therapy is a great adjunct to wellness care and has been found to be highly effective in horses.  Ask us some question about what we can treat and how it can help your horses!