Retained Dental Cap in Horses

By PetMD Editorial on Nov. 10, 2011

Failure of Deciduous Caps to Shed in Horses

From the first to fourth years of life of a horse, the permanent teeth begin to grow in, but in order for them to grow in normally, the deciduous teeth (baby teeth), must shed. Deciduous teeth that have not been lost and sit on top of the permanent teeth are called caps. A failure of the caps to shed can result in the permanent teeth growing in at an abnormal angle, uneven surfaces of the teeth opposite to the unshed cap, or failure of the permanent tooth to grow in at all. 

If your horse is showing any symptoms of dental problems, such as difficulty eating, dropping feed when it eats (called quidding), unexplained behavioral problems, resisting the bit, or head tossing, have the horse examined by your veterinarian. Sometimes there are no signs of problems and occasionally an older horse may be found to still have a retained cap after many years.


  • Difficulty eating/chewing
  • Slow eating
  • Favoring one side of the mouth when eating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive salivation
  • Quidding (dropping food from mouth due to inability to chew)
  • Resisting the bit
  • Head shaking


Upon inspection of your horse’s mouth, your veterinarian should be able to tell whether or not there is a dental cap issue. Retained deciduous teeth will typically cause recognizable misalignment of the tooth line. Soreness and inflammation may also be apparent upon examination.



There is only one method of treatment for a dental cap, and that is removal of the tooth with dental forceps. Done properly, the temporary tooth is usually easy to remove unless it is impacted tightly against another tooth. Removing a retained cap usually requires standing sedation for the horse so it will stand quietly while the veterinarian works with its mouth held open by an instrument called a mouth speculum. Your veterinarian may team up with an equine dentist to work the case.

Living and Management

It may take a couple of days for your horse’s eating habits to get back to normal, as the removal of a tooth will realign the horse’s bite and, depending on how tightly it was adhered, may be painful for a few days. However, eating should not be much slower or more painful than it was with the presence of the dental cap, and the condition should quickly improve as the site heals and the permanent tooth fixes itself in the gum line.


There is no prevention for retained baby teeth in horses. It is commonly encountered and often simple to fix. The possible presence of retained dental caps is one of many reasons to have your young horse’s mouth checked twice yearly by your veterinarian or equine dentist.

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