by Dr Shannon Lee, BVSc
What is the significance of wolf teeth in horses?
Wolf teeth are teeth that cause much confusion for horse owners. They are often confused with canine teeth. Wolf teeth are the most variable teeth in the horse's mouth, in terms of whether the horse develops them, their size and shape.
They can be impacted (permanently trapped under the gumline) in which case they are referred to as "blind".
Wolf teeth are technically the first premolars and are a vestigial tooth. This means they are a remnant or a genetic throwback reflecting what the cheek teeth of horses looked like 50 million years ago.
All teeth in a horses head contain nerves and as such when a wolf is removed the horse will feel pain during the process unless nerve blocks are used. Bit contact with wolf teeth is common due to their position in the mouth; due to the nerves in these teeth, the sensation of a bit making contact can be likened to being hit in the teeth with a teaspoon. For this reason it is common practice to extract (remove) wolf teeth.
As a horse ages a process of ankylosis (fusion) occurs between the tooth and the Alveolus ( bony socket) so it is far easier to remove a wolf tooth in a young animal then an older horse. Wolf teeth erupt between 6 months and 1 year of age, so ideally they should be removed as close to eruption as possible.