Horses have two sets of teeth during their lifetime. The first set, the deciduous or baby teeth, are replaced by permanent teeth by the time the horse is five years old.
The permanent teeth are made up of:
- Dentine – The sensitive living tissue inside the tooth which has nerves and receives nutrients from the blood vessels to feed the tooth
- Enamel – The hardest substance in the body, this layer is of varying thickness
- Cementum – the outer layer which holds the tooth together
All three substances are exposed on the grinding surface of the tooth, although the dentine is not sensitive here. The varying hardness of these substances causes the grinding surfaces of the tooth to wear irregularly, which improves the efficiency of the chewing process.
Each tooth is up to 3-4in long with most of the length embedded in the jaw below the gum line. The clinical crown is the part of the tooth that is visible above the gum line. As this wears down through the constant grinding of food the tooth grows up from below the gum ensuring the visible tooth remains at a constant size.
As long as each tooth has another tooth to grind itself against, it will wear at an even rate. Problems occur when there is a gap between teeth. If one tooth has no opposing grinding surface to wear against, it will continue to grow, eventually damaging the gum on the opposite jaw.
Six-monthly visits from your equine vet or equine dental technician will ensure problems like this arekept under control, preventing high levels of discomfort for your horse.
This feature was taken from Horse & Hound’s Tooth & Nail series (21 February).
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