Back to Basics: Equine Dental Terminology and Anatomy

Having a basic understanding of dental anatomy and terminology can help owners comprehend this complex topic.
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Back to Basics: Equine Dental Terminology
Horses have hypsodont teeth, meaning they have long crowns divided into two regions: the clinical crown (the short length visible in the mouth) and the reverse crown (the longer portion located under the gums). | Photo: Photos.com

When discussing our dental health, we are familiar with commonly used terms such as plaque, cavity, or root canal. But discussing our horses’ teeth can be a bit more confusing: Mesial. Occlusal surface. Interproximal space. What does it all mean? Fortunately, at the 2013 Western Veterinary Conference, held Feb. 17-21 in Las Vegas, Nev., Cleet Griffin, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, a clinical assistant professor in the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, reviewed the basics of equine dental anatomy, beginning with common terms and their definitions:

  • Rostral—located toward the front of the mouth (For example, incisors are positioned rostral to molars in horses’ mouths)
  • Caudal—located toward the back of the mouth (For example, molars are positioned caudal to premolars in horses’ mouths)
  • Mesial—located toward the midline of the mouth, or closer to the space between the first incisors (For example, horses’ canine teeth are positioned mesial to their premolars)
  • Distal—located away from the midline of the mouth
  • Occlusal—located toward the occlusal (or chewing) surface of the tooth
  • Apical—located away from the occlusal surface and closer to the tooth roots
  • Labial—the surface of the incisors facing the lips
  • Buccal—the surface of the cheek teeth facing the cheek
  • Lingual—the surface of the lower teeth facing the tongue
  • Palatal—the surface of the upper teeth facing the palate
  • Interproximal space—the space between adjacent teeth in a row
  • Vestibule—the space inside the horse’s mouth between the cheeks, lips, and teeth

Dental Basics

During his lecture, Griffin described some interesting and important points to remember about horse teeth.

He explained that horses have hypsodont teeth, meaning they have long crowns divided into two regions: the clinical crown (the short length visible in the mouth) and the reverse crown (the longer portion located under the gums). The reverse crowns are situated in sockets called alveoli, he said, and the surrounding gum prevents feed from accumulating in tiny gaps between the teeth and the alveoli

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Written by:

Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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