Dental Caps

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Also Known As

Retained baby teeth


When the deciduous teeth (baby teeth) of a foal are not shed and continue to sit on top of the foal's permanent teeth, they are called caps. A failure of the caps to shed can result in the permanent teeth growing in crooked, uneven surfaces on the teeth opposite to the unshed cap, or failure of the permanent tooth to grow in at all.

During the first five years of life, the horse's mouth is a busy place. When permanent teeth emerge, they normally push the deciduous teeth out of the way, disrupting the blood supply and causing them to shed.

If the deciduous teeth do not shed, they remain attached to the permanent tooth creating bite problems and discomfort for the horse. In addition, anorexia, infection, and abnormal wear patterns develop that can lead to long-term problems for the horse.


  • Difficulty in chewing
  • Signs of pain during training with a bit
  • Painful swelling on the upper bridge of the nose
  • Hard bumps on the lower jaw bone
  • Dislocated permanent teeth
  • Sharp enamel points on the deciduous tooth


Failure of the permanent teeth to push the deciduous teeth out of the way creates a problem when the deciduous teeth are retained. Unless these retained deciduous teeth, known as caps, are removed, they create eating, health, behavioral, and physical problems for the horse.

A cap has a flat, level surface and is very different from a permanent tooth, so they are easy to identify. Most caps come off on their own, but some have long root spicules and when the root spicule is not removed, it sticks the horse in the gums, causing more discomfort and difficulty in eating.

Failure to remove retained caps can result in malocclusions that will need to be corrected later, with far more extensive treatment than would be necessary if the caps are removed in a timely manner.


The timely shedding of the deciduous teeth is very important to the health of the horse. Careful, regular inspection of the young horse's mouth and teeth to make sure deciduous teeth are shedding and permanent teeth are coming in properly is the best prevention for the problems that come from caps in the horse's mouth.


By knowing when the deciduous teeth should be shed, a horse owner can determine when the services of a dental veterinarian are needed. It is very important to have a horse's teeth checked at least yearly during the formative years. If a horse develops problems with retained caps, checking its teeth two or three times a year may be necessary.

A veterinarian can extract the deciduous premolar or incisor teeth once the boundary between the deciduous and permanent tooth is visible. Retained caps in horses up to five years of age need to be removed because they will interfere with normal development and placement of permanent teeth and can cause significant oral pain when eating feed or during training with a bit.

Horses going into training for the first time, especially two and three year olds, need a comprehensive dental check-up. Deciduous teeth are softer than permanent teeth and may develop sharp points that need to be floated (shaved or filed down). The services of a veterinarian who is knowledgeable about equine dentistry or an equine dentist can save the horse many problems with eating, training, and general physical discomfort.

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EquiMed staff writers team up to provide articles that require periodic updates based on evolving methods of equine healthcare. Compendia articles, core healthcare topics and more are written and updated as a group effort. Our review process includes an important veterinarian review, helping to assure the content is consistent with the latest understanding from a medical professional.