When was the last time your horse’s teeth were examined and floated by a veterinarian?
Did you know that horses have teeth that erupt from the gums (shift out of the bone into the oral cavity) at about 2-3mm per year? These are called hypsodont teeth which are developed to compensate for the constant grinding required for chewing and processing forage. Because their teeth are constantly being ground down and erupting, their mouth is always changing! Though all of the chewing teeth (premolars and molars) have a grinding function, they don’t always wear evenly. This in combination with their anatomy of having a lower jaw that is slightly more narrow than their upper jaw means that they have the propensity to develop sharp points, most commonly on the cheek side of the upper teeth and the tongue side of the lower teeth. These sharp points are not only painful but can also cause uneven wear making it hard for them to move their mouth and grind food properly and can greatly affect performance.
Floating is the process of smoothing the sharp edges/points of teeth and balancing irregularities that develop by filing them down with either a hand float (rasp) or a power float.
Why is floating your horse’s teeth so important?
Why should a licensed veterinarian float your horse’s teeth?
Dentistry is a very important part of veterinary medicine and an integral part of your horses’ overall wellbeing. Though there is no license required to perform equine dentistry itself, a veterinary license is required to administer sedation.
Part of floating horse’s teeth is a thorough oral exam. Just like when you go to the dentist, it is important to not only feel all of the teeth but also to look at all aspects of the oral cavity. Because a horse’s mouth is so long and they can actually develop sharp hooks in the very back, we use a dental speculum to hold the mouth open by resting the upper and lower front teeth on plates. This allows us to examine all parts of the mouth, including the very back teeth that are by their throat. Without using an oral speculum, it is not possible to reach and address the teeth all the way in the back of a horse’s mouth.
To keep everyone safe and maintain a low-stress environment, the horse is sedated. Horses remain standing during the entire exam and floating process, the sedation helps them to relax and allows the veterinarian to fully and thoroughly examine all parts of the mouth and address any issues that may be found.
Some common signs that your horse may benefit from a dental include:
You will not always see signs indicating that your horse needs a dental so scheduling a yearly sedated oral exam with an oral speculum is an important part of preventative medicine.
One common misconception is that the older a horse gets, the less frequently they need dentals. In fact, the opposite is true! The older a horse gets, the shorter the roots of the teeth thus the more unstable they become and the more likely they are to develop issues like loose and diseased teeth. We know that good nutrition is very important for maintaining a healthy senior horse and without a healthy mouth, it is difficult for them to process their food well.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, young horses have baby (deciduous) teeth, referred to as caps, that are replaced by the adult teeth they will have for life. Dental care for your young horse is important to support the correct development of a healthy, well balanced mouth. More specifically, a thorough oral exam around the age of 3 is very important to ensure that no baby teeth are retained and that all adult teeth are coming in normally. Addressing issues such as retained caps in a timely manner is important for the normal development of the adult mouth.
Regular dental care by a licensed veterinarian is vital to the health and well-being of horses of all ages. Equine dentistry is a complex area of medicine and surgery that affects many aspects of the life and well-being of all horses! We at Midstate Veterinary Services would be delighted to speak with you about how dentistry can benefit you and your horse. Contact us today with any questions you may have and to schedule a dental exam and float for your horse!