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Long in the tooth

Posted by RB on January 14, 2001

In Reply to: Long in the tooth posted by Barney on January 14, 2001

: : : : : : : What does "long in the tooth" mean. I alwasy thought it meant ugly.

: : : : : : "Long in the tooth" means old. It refers to the fact that one can determine a horse's age by looking at its teeth. A horse's gums recede as it ages causing its teeth to look "long."

: : : : : And it is from this same fact that we get "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth." Two phrases explained for the price of one!

: : : : My understanding is that horses continue to experience eruption of new teeth until they are up to 20 years old (in some breeds) and that the number and length of their teeth (which continue to grow throughout the horses life) is therefore a determinate of their age. Retreating gums are more a feature of human aging.

: : : I live in horse country but don't know a lot about horses. My child, however, is taking a horsemanship class in school. She tells me that horses have baby teeth and adult teeth like humans. But don't grow new sets throughout their live.

: : My old Britannica says a horse's molars grow up from the jaw as they are worn down from the top, for the first six years or so of the horse's life, and then they stop growing. Anyway, it is possible to estimate a horse's age from its teeth (perhaps they become shorter? discolored? missing?), producing the "gift horse" proverb. Maybe "long in the tooth" refers more to humans. Anybody out there have the answer from the horse's mouth?

: I found this site using the google search engine - I'm sure there are others.

Well, I found that site under construction, but Google provided another site-- cavanaughc/id123.htm --that offers more detail about horses' teeth and aging than most people need. Generally, after age 7, the teeth wear down, and there are many age-specific changes. So it seems that "long in the tooth" applies more accurately to us than to Equus.

See: the meaning and origin of the phrase "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth".

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