Dental Care Requirements By Age
Young Horses (up to 4 years of age) should be checked annually to determine whether dental care is required. Caps (baby teeth) begin to shed around the age of 2 and young horses may retain their caps, preventing the proper eruption of permanent teeth. Retained caps need to be removed if they are not shed naturally. Wolf teeth erupt within the first year and are generally removed when colts are sedated for gelding. Wolf teeth interfere with the bit, making proper collection uncomfortable. While wolf teeth can generally be extracted at any age, it's preferable to do so when the horse is young to avoid root fusion to the jaw bone. Wolf tooth extraction in older horses can be more complicated and costly.
Without getting too technical, horses between the ages of 2 through 4 experience 24 changes in their mouths over time as they age. Of course, this is the time when we're typically training them for the use for which they are intended. Dental exams can help rule out mouth issues if the horse becomes a challenging 'trainee'. Trainers tend to request that a first float be performed at the age of 2, however, it's important to remember that a float performed at this age will be completed on 'baby teeth' that will be shed. Horses typically have all of their permanent teeth erupt by the age of 4. This is also when canine teeth will begin to erupt.
Adult Horses (5+ years) require annual dental maintenance to ‘float’ the surface of the teeth at the proper angle to ensure that the horse is chewing properly and comfortably. Hooks, waves, or protuberant teeth may develop which need to be addressed and canine teeth (typically found in male horses but can be present in females) need to be reduced and filed. Any accumulated tartar should also be removed. If wolf teeth are still present and the horse is being ridden, extraction is recommended.
Elder Horses (20 years+) whose teeth have slowed in their rate of eruption should to be checked regularly to ensure that the teeth are wearing evenly. Annual floats are still recommended until it's determined that the horse's rate of eruption has significantly slowed, or stopped, or until the horse does not have enough tooth structure to warrant the procedure. As teeth are shed through the elder years, a softer diet might be required to ensure that the horse is getting the proper nutrients through its feed.