Wolf teeth are vestigial premolars found in many equids such as horses, donkeys, and zebras. In domestic equids like horses, the wolf teeth are often removed to prevent oral pain and other dental problems, although in some cases they can be left in; veterinarians usually decide what to do with the wolf teeth on a case by case basis. Routine dental care for horses is especially important because dental problems can cause the horse to fight the bit or act up. As any humans who have experienced dental pain know, it is hard to focus on tasks when one's teeth are causing pain.
Equids have two types of teeth: incisors and molars. The incisors are in the front of the mouth, and they are separated from the molars by a gap known as the interdental space. When wolf teeth do erupt, which happens in around 50% of equids, they usually appear in the interdental space, and they tend to be close to the molars. Most commonly, wolf teeth appear in the upper jaw, although they have been observed in the lower jaw as well; typically one wolf tooth erupts on each side of the mouth.
These teeth look like stubby little pegs, sometimes with a sharper point. Depending on the placement of a wolf tooth, it can cause discomfort to the horse. Wolf teeth can crowd other teeth, for example, or they may interfere with the bit. If the wolf teeth are right next to the molars, the bit could slip between the wolf teeth and the molars and pinch the gums, causing extreme pain.
Usually wolf teeth emerge within the first 18 months of age, at which point a veterinarian will decide what to do about them. Sometimes a horse has blind wolf teeth, teeth which lie flat against the gum instead of erupting, which can make them hard to detect. If the position of the wolf teeth doesn't seem problematic, the vet may simply leave them in place. However, if the wolf teeth look like they are in an awkward place, the vet will recommend extraction. Some equine dentists prefer to extract all wolf teeth as soon as they emerge, under the assumption that they can't become a problem if they are not present.
A well trained horse will hopefully have been well handled before a veterinarian needs to remove the wolf teeth, and the horse may have already had its teeth floated, in which case it will be familiar with the idea of dental work. Floating is a procedure in which the sharp edges of the teeth are filed down to the make the horse more comfortable. If a horse is mouth-shy or the vet wants to make the process easier, mild sedation may be used to keep the horse calm for the 10 minute procedure.