Last updated: April 7, 2023
Horses, known for their grazing habits, rely heavily on their teeth for overall well-being. While a fully grown horse boasts 36 to 44 teeth, you might wonder, do baby horses come into the world already sporting a set of pearly whites?
Foals (baby horses) typically are born with no teeth; however, central incisors are sometimes present. Foals get teeth quickly; typically, they grow two incisors in the upper jaw and two in the lower jaw within eight days of birth.
While the majority of baby horses enter the world toothless, their dental journey quickly unfolds as teeth begin to appear in rapid succession. Over the next five years, their dental development continues to progress. Intrigued? Keep reading to discover more fascinating insights about the teeth of baby horses.
How many teeth do horses have at one year old?
In general, horses are born with only a few temporary teeth, which are also known as “milk teeth” or “baby teeth.” These temporary teeth are replaced by permanent teeth as the horse grows and matures.
The process of replacing milk teeth with permanent teeth is called “eruption” and usually begins when a horse is about six months old. Most horses have a total of 24 permanent teeth by the time they reach one year of age.
This includes 12 incisors (front teeth), four canines (sharp teeth used for biting and tearing), and eight molars (flat teeth used for grinding and chewing food). However, the number of teeth a horse has at one year old can vary depending on the horse and its breed.
Some horses may have more or fewer teeth than the average, and the timing of eruption may also vary. In general, it’s important for horse owners to monitor the eruption of their horse’s permanent teeth and have them checked regularly by a veterinarian or equine dental technician.
This can help identify and address any problems with the teeth and ensure that the horse can eat and chew properly.
First Year of Teeth Development
In their first year of life, baby horses typically grow 24 teeth, but these are only temporary teeth and are often called milk teeth or deciduous teeth. Milk teeth are wider than tall and shaped like a dome.
The first teeth of a foal are two upper and two lower incisors and will typically display themselves within the first eight days. The second set of teeth is present anywhere from six to eight weeks.
These teeth are the foals’ “middle incisors.” Diet, including grass, hay, and feed, influences baby horses’ teeth’ strength and mineral composition. A study of ten foals’ teeth confirmed the impact of diet and teeth strength.
Baby horses also develop twelve premolars, three on each side of the top and bottom jaws, within two weeks of age. A foal will add two more incisors in each jaw from six to eight months of age outside the others. These are the corner incisors.
The foal now has its full set of baby teeth, 24–six upper and six lower incisors, and six upper and six lower premolars. These are all temporary or milk teeth.
All the teeth have “cups” or small concavities at their tips. These little dips disappear as the teeth wear and are a critical factor in determining the age of a horse. (Click on the link to learn how to determine a horse’s age by looking at its teeth.)
By the time baby horses turn one, their first incisors have lost their cups–they’ve worn down, and the tips are smooth; however, the second and third incisors still retain cups. Permanent teeth replace all of the horses’ baby teeth by five years old.
Baby horses’ teeth should be checked early.
Baby horses’ teeth should be checked early to ensure they are coming in correctly. You can check your foal’s teeth at home, but it is best to consult with a vet if you’re unfamiliar with equine dental or have concerns about proper tooth development.
Checking baby horses’ teeth early and often will help to ensure they have healthy mouths for years to come. We have an equine dentist come by and check our young horses periodically. He typically finds they have ramps that need grinding.
Is a dental exam necessary for a foal’s baby teeth?
Baby horses should have a dental exam during their first wellness examination, which should occur within the weeks after birth. The vet should look at the teeth to ensure the presence of the incisors and premolars. The mouth should be examined for congenital issues, such as parrot mouth and cleft palates.
Corrective treatment for certain diseases of a horse’s mouth is more likely to succeed when treated early in the horse’s life. One study of young horses found that twenty-four percent had some form of dental abnormality regardless of showing symptoms.
Proper examination and routine care can prevent most equine dental problems. A healthy mouth protects against digestive disorders such as colic, weight loss, and poor feed utilization.
Neglected teeth in performance horses can be adversely affected their ability to compete. A horse with points on the edges of its molars may be unable to flex at the poll because the points prevent the lower jaw from moving forward to close the throat latch angle.
Providing routine dental care is essential to the development of healthy horses. A healthy mouth can help prevent the incidence of digestive problems such as colic, weight loss, and poor feed utilization.
A good mouth is also essential to the success of performance horses; for example, a horse with hooks (enamel points on edges of upper or lower molars) may not be able to slide the lower jaw forward to close the angle at the throat latch when asked to flex at the poll.
Young horses can have a lot of dental problems.
Young horses can have a lot of dental problems for a variety of reasons. Their teeth are still growing, and they may not have all their adult teeth yet. This can make it difficult for them to grind their food properly, which can lead to infection and inflammation.
Young horses also tend to play more than older horses, which can lead to accidental injuries that damage their teeth. And finally, many young horses are simply born with poor dental health.
This can be the result of genetics or poor nutrition during pregnancy. Regardless of the cause, young horses with dental problems need special care and attention from their owners. With proper care, most horses will grow out of their dental problems and enjoy a healthy mouth for life.
Common dental abnormalities in young horses under two years old
Parrot mouth is a congenital condition in which the upper jaw is longer than the lower jaw. It results in the development of hooks on upper and lower molar teeth that need to be removed.
In addition, the upper and lower incisors don’t meet the way they should and fail to wear correctly, resulting in abnormal tooth growth; consequently, a dentist must shorten them.
Sow-mouth is the opposite of a parrot mouth; in these instances, the lower jaw protrudes further than the upper jaw, causing the lower teeth to protrude forward. Horses with sow-mouth fail to close their mouths correctly and develop abnormal tooth growth.
A foal with wry nose has an upper jaw, and the nose deviates or turns to one side, resulting in misalignment of the horse’s teeth, although most foals are still able to nurse. A deviated nasal septum is also present and typically results in obstruction of the airway and difficulty breathing.
Supernumerary teeth are the presence of extra teeth in a horse’s mouth. This is not a common occurrence in horses but a condition to be aware of.
Hooks develop when the molars are not aligned. Hooks are typically caused by an over-bite or under-bite (parrot mouth or sow mouth) of the incisor arcades.
When a horse’s tooth has no opposition, it will not wear down as it should. In many cases, hooks can be ground or floated so the teeth work properly.
Ramped cheek teeth are similar to hooks but with a more gradual slope to the tooth and can be on the front or back, upper or lower molars. Ramps on the first lower cheek teeth can lead to pinching the soft tissue with contact on the reins.
Ramps also inhibit the natural anterior-posterior movement of the lower jaw, which is particularly important for ridden horses. Ramps can create problems for the jaw hinge joint. When our young horses are checked as yearlings, they typically need ramps filed down.
Sometimes an infection or cysts will arise in the eruption area of a new tooth.
Avulsed incisors are the complete displacement of the tooth from its socket. It occurs most often because of trauma, and extraction is the typical treatment.
Sharp enamel points
Sharp enamel points typically develop on the inside of the lower molars and outside of the upper molars. They develop over time, and the sharp ends are caused by how a horse chews. The method of chewing leads to the edge tooth growing longer and forming razor-sharp points.
Impacted wolf teeth
Unerupted wolf teeth can be painful when the mucosa is compressed against the tooth by a bit. Wolf teeth are often extracted.
Horses get wolf teeth between 5-12 months.
Wolf teeth typically erupt between the ages of five and 12 months. It’s estimated that approximately only 70 percent of horses have wolf teeth. The teeth usually emerge in the upper jaw two to three centimeters in front of the first premolars.
Some wolf teeth interfere with a horse’s bit and cause pain. Most people have their horses’ wolf teeth extracted to avoid the bit interference and the suffering created by the teeth. These teeth don’t serve any purpose, and removal doesn’t affect chewing.
To read more about horses’ teeth, check out my other article: Horse Teeth – What Kind, How Many, & Much More!
Below is a YouTube video that covers some common issues horses have with their teeth.
What is a baby horse called?
What is the difference between a pony and a baby horse?
A pony doesn’t exceed 14.2 hands in height, and a baby horse, when fully grown, is over 14.2 hands tall. Ponies typically have thicker coats and denser bones than baby horses. To learn more about the differences between ponies and horses, check out this article: 10 Differences Between Ponies and Horses: Size, Breeds …
Meet Miles Henry
An avid equestrian and seasoned racehorse owner, Miles Henry brings his extensive experience to the equine world, proudly associating with the AQHA, The Jockey Club, and various other equine organizations. Beyond the racetrack, Miles is an accomplished author, having published various books about horses, and is a recognized authority in the field, with his work cited in multiple publications.
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