Millions of years ago, wolf teeth in horses were similar in size to the rest of the molars and they were used for grinding and chewing food. Back then, though, horses were forest-dwelling busy eaters, with the cheek teeth being small and narrow, more like those of goats and sheep. There were seven functional cheek teeth in each ‘arcade’ of teeth, compared to six in today’s horses. As equines have evolved, wolf teeth in horses haven’t and they have no function now.

Wolf teeth in horses can cause problems for some equines, but not others — and ultimately that is the question that needs to be answered when considering whether to remove them in the interest of your horse’s general care, health and comfort.

What are wolf teeth in horses?

Wolf teeth are small and sit immediately in front of the horse’s first upper cheek teeth. Sometimes, but rarely, they sit in front of the first lower cheek teeth. They come in many shapes and sizes. Not all horses will have wolf teeth, much like not all people will have wisdom teeth.

Many young horses are found to have wolf teeth when they first have a bit put in their mouth. However, most will have erupted by the time the horse is around 12 months of age. Wolf teeth may even shed along with the first cheek tooth cap at around two-and-a-half years of age.

Why are they a problem?

Wolf teeth can cause bitting and bridling difficulties in some instances because of where they are located in the horse’s mouth. Some horses demonstrate a clear, repeatable pain response during ridden work with a bit in their mouth, while others are not affected. So whether or not wolf teeth cause a problem is down to individual experience. One theory is that sometimes the mouthpiece (bit) directly connects with the wolf tooth during rein contact, which causes the horse pain.

Should they be extracted?

The image shows wolf teeth in a horse's mouth; it is circled in the image for total clarity

One of this horse’s wolf teeth is circled

Wolf teeth are often routinely extracted, with some service providers believing that no wolf teeth ever did any good and may cause trouble for the horse in the future. Others elect to take action only if a problem with these teeth develops. Opinions are likely to remain divided as to whether or not to remove wolf teeth in horses as a matter of course, so you would be best advised to take the recommendations you are given for your own horse from your BAEDT- registered equine dental technician or vet.

How are wolf teeth removed?

Removing wolf teeth is a quick and relatively straightforward surgery that can be done at your yard as part of a routine check. The horse needs to be sedated for the procedure and local anaesthetic is used. As the gums are highly vascularised, which means that they have lots of blood vessels, expect to see some bleeding, which is normal.

Most wolf teeth extraction sites heal without complication or further visitation required. After tooth removal, your horse will need time off from bitted work until the sockets fully heal and they’re comfortable in their mouth again. This can take two weeks or more.

Looking for an equine dental technician?

Only a vet or qualified equine dental technician should assess and treat your horse’s teeth. The British Association Of Equine Dental Technicians (BAEDT) was founded in 2001 and is an organisation for qualified professional equine dental technicians. A full list of fully qualified BAEDT Equine Dental Technicians can be found here.

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