WOLF teeth can be found in horses’ mouths, usually situated in front of the first premolars and just where the bit sits. Not every horse or pony gets wolf teeth, but if they do, they are normally erupted by 18 months of age. As they can be found in both upper and lower jaws, and in conjunction with the soft tissues of the mouth, they can be affected by contact from a bit, causing ridden issues.
The size and position of the wolf teeth and the function and bitting of the horse will determine whether wolf teeth need to be extracted or not. A 20-year-old companion pony and a six-year-old dressage horse will present as totally different scenarios in regard to the question of wolf tooth extraction.
Some wolf teeth are shed when the first upper premolar caps are shed at approximately 2.5 years of age, while others can remain in place for the lifetime of the horse. The erupted part of the wolf tooth can be variable in size, as can the length and degree of attachment to the underlying bone of the root of the tooth. The wolf tooth is similar in structure to a human tooth, a simple enamel layer overlying a single vital pulp, therefore like our teeth it should not be rasped or reduced as that would expose the pulp and cause severe pain to the horse.
Horses should be sedated and, where possible, a local anaesthetic be administered by a vet to allow pain-free, safe and complete extraction, as wolf teeth can break quite easily during the extraction procedure.
Some wolf teeth are displaced ‘rostrally’, this means towards the canines, usually about 1-2cm in front of the upper cheek teeth and, in many cases, these teeth sit flat against the bone of the upper mandible and remain unerupted or ‘blind’. These wolf teeth often cause problems when the horse is bitted and extraction is slightly more complicated.
As wolf teeth have nerves, it is quite possible that when a horse is ridden with a bit, it can make contact with the wolf teeth, causing a lot of pain and discomfort. Ridden issues, such as rearing, unsettled contact and even a reluctance to have the bridle fitted, can be a sign of wolf tooth issues.
Pete Ravenhill BVSc, BAEDT MRCVS, believes it is vitally important to perform a full dental examination on all horses before they are bitted for the first time (this may be as a yearling in race Thoroughbreds, but may be as a three-year-old in other competition horses). In young horses like this, there will always be very sharp enamel points, loose premolar caps and possibly wolf teeth, and these issues should be addressed as appropriate at this time, and then the horse given time for the mouth to settle down again before bitting is attempted.
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