Perhaps one of the most neglected aspects of equine health, until a problem manifests itself, is the monitoring and care of a young horse’s baby teeth. After all, they are only temporary and are shed at various stages to make way for permanent teeth. Right? True, but there is more to the story. Baby teeth can have problems along the way that might affect the young horse’s development and even set the stage for problems when the permanent teeth arrive.

Neglect of equine baby teeth can have the same disastrous results as neglect of human teeth in a growing child. Without good teeth, a horse can’t properly masticate its food. Debilitation, loss of energy, and poor physical health follow.

Actually, a horse uses its teeth more than a human does. Many humans eat three meals a day at spaced intervals. By contrast, horses in the wild and on pasture might spend between 10 and 12 hours per day grazing. The same is true of horses in box stalls or paddocks on free-choice hay. They will eat only a little at a time, but they will eat often.

We will employ Jack Easley, DVM, MS, Dipl. ABVP, of Shelbyville, Ky., as a guide in our discussion of equine baby teeth. He is a practitioner who devotes a good deal of his time to dental care of equines and has given a number of talks and authored a number of papers on equine dentistry. Easley presented a paper to educate his fellow veterinarians on “Equine Dental Development and Anatomy” at the 1996 American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) convention in Denver, Colo., and more recently has authored other treatises on the subject.

To better understand the need for proper dental care, we first have to understand something about the unique tooth structure of the horse and the way it has evolved as horses slowly changed from an animal which was only about 26 inches tall to the half-ton or heavier horse of today. Obviously, that great increase in size over tim