Retained Baby (Deciduous) Teeth in Horses

Key takeaways

Retained deciduous (or baby) teeth occur when the adult teeth do not push the overlying baby teeth out of the gums as they grow.

  • Normally, the baby teeth become thin, forming a cap on the underlying permanent tooth, and fall off between 2.5 - 4.5 years of age
  • If the permanent teeth erupt at a slightly skewed angle to the erupted baby teeth, the cap may be retained
  • Symptoms include head shaking and tossing while eating, rubbing the teeth on objects, dropping feed while eating
  • Retained deciduous teeth are identified by an oral exam and X-ray
  • Treatment is removal of the deciduous tooth under sedation and local anesthesia
  • Prognosis is good with treatment
  • Failure to remove retained deciduous teeth can result in abnormal development of the permanent teeth and long-term dental complications
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A closer look: Retained Baby (Deciduous) Teeth in Horses

Normally, baby teeth fall out without human or veterinary intervention. Uncommonly, these deciduous teeth do not fall out, and may predispose horses to other dental conditions as the permanent teeth erupt. The prognosis for retained deciduous teeth is good upon their removal. Retained deciduous teeth that are not removed can result in abnormal development of the permanent teeth, leading to malocclusions, gingivitis, periodontal disease, and pulpitis.

Premature removal of caps can be problematic, resulting in increased risk of cavities later in life. It is important to keep up with regular scheduled check ups during all stages of life to detect all forms of dental disease early and maximize health outcomes.

Risk factors

In some cases, retained deciduous teeth can make it difficult for the horse to eat properly. Pain associated with retained deciduous teeth can also make horses uncomfortable when having their head handled.

Possible causes

Baby teeth can become retained if the permanent teeth erupt slightly off center from the overlying deciduous tooth. This misalignment causes the baby teeth (or caps) to be incompletely pushed out of the gums during eruption of the permanent tooth, either leaving behind tooth fragments or preventing the underlying tooth from growing normally.

Main symptoms

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnosis of retained deciduous teeth is via an oral exam, although X-rays may be needed for a full assessment.

Steps to Recovery

Treatment involves manual removal of the retained caps under sedation and local anesthesia. In some cases, antibiotics may be recommended if there is extensive damage to the tissues surrounding the tooth.

Baby teeth (or caps) typically fall off between 2.5 - 4.5 years of age, depending on the tooth. While this usually occurs without any intervention, veterinary-guided removal of these caps may be warranted if they are retained. If the retained baby teeth are recognized quickly on routine oral examination, the treatment is quick, with a complete recovery and no long-term effects.


Regular dental care in horses is important as a preventative measure for all dental diseases, including retained deciduous teeth. Veterinarians can identify retained deciduous teeth and remove them if necessary.

Are Retained Baby (Deciduous) Teeth in Horses common?

Retained deciduous teeth are uncommon in horses.

Typical Treatment

  • Manual removal

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