Equine dentistry is essential not only for the horse's nutrition, but also for proper movement. Peak performance starts with the jaw, and continues through the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), then onwards to the tail via the cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral bones.
It is very important that once a foal is born, and throughout its life, it has a dental examination and float when necessary. Floating is the process of smoothing down the sharp edges on the teeth of a horse and insuring equilibrium.
At each stage of the horse’s life, foal throughout adulthood, different aspects of the mouth and teeth are examined and evaluated. A thorough examination entails not just floating sharp points, but evaluating the TMJ, alignment and pathologies in the mouth as well.
A proper, full visual and palpable oral exam is a vital part of a thorough examination and float. This is done to optimize comfort and performance, minimize downtime and avoid unnecessary expense.
A horse’s dental care will greatly influence a horse's movement and whether the horse may seem “not lame but not moving right” in a rider’s hands.
Dentistry — Helpful Information for Your Horse
Why is it essential that we float horse’s teeth?
- Their anatomical and physiological make up.
- The maxilla (upper jaw) is wider then the mandible (lower jaw).
- Areas of maxilla teeth that are in contact with areas of mandibular teeth wear each other down, leaving sharp points on the outer side of the upper teeth, and the inner side of the lower teeth.
- The horse’s teeth have a prolonged eruption time of two to three millimeters per year. Their designated length of tooth continues to protrude throughout life.
- They must maintain their ability to grind food.
- They must be able to accommodate our demands of them.
- They must be able to accommodate having a bit in their mouth.
- They must be able to move their head freely (flex at the poll and move their head comfortably from side-to-side).
Medical, behavioral and performance problems that can arise from poor teeth maintenance:
- Prolonged amount of time to eat
- Dropping feed
- Whole grain in manure
- Weight loss
- Behavioral problems:
- Abnormal head carriage
- Sensitivity around the ears
- Performance problems:
- Inability to flex at the poll
- Not accepting the bit
- Inability to move the head freely to the right or the left
- Inability to take the “proper” lead
Frequency of floating teeth:
- Mouth should be evaluated at birth to check proper alignment.
- Age 1½ - 5: Twice a year
- Age 6 - 10: Yearly
- Age 11 - older: As the horse ages, and possible weaknesses in the mouth develop, two or more times per year may be advisable.
- Any anatomical (missing tooth) or physiological (chew movement) abnormality of the mouth will change the frequency. Tooth composition may also play a role. Some horses may need to be floated more often.
These are estimates only; every horse should be evaluated as an individual.
A thorough visual and manual examination of a horse’s mouth is essential in order to properly float and align horses' teeth. The appropriate amount of sedation facilitates this process while reducing the anxiety level of the horse.
- Full mouth speculum:
A full mouth speculum is needed to assure that a thorough visual and manual examination can take place and to evaluate your horse’s mouth. With the use of a full mouth speculum, the equine practitioner can visualize sharp points, abnormalities on and between the teeth and on the cheeks (indentations, ulcers). A complete and thorough examination is vital. In the long run, this will help the horse physically and circumvent potential problems for the horse and financial burden for the owner.
Both manual and electrical floats are appropriate under the right condition of the horse’s mouth. The benefit of the electrical tool is that it is easier on a horse with a missing tooth, and less painful and damaging to the horse if the horse has a loose tooth. The electrical tool may speed up the process for the horse and will not put as much friction on a loose tooth as a manual float, and in such, will not loosen the tooth more.
A thorough exam of your horse’s mouth is essential for the health and performance of your horse, and from a preventative standpoint. It encompasses the entire mouth, alignment, front teeth (incisors), cheek teeth (canines, premolars and molars), temporomandibular joints (TMJ) and cheeks. It also checks for sharp points on the teeth and cuts on the cheek.
Proper and safe sedation is necessary to assure visualization and manual examination using a full mouth speculum, head light and appropriate dental tools.
It is much easier on the horse, and less of a financial burden for the owner, to avoid possible dental problems than to try to correct them. Many teeth problems in the geriatric horse are harder, if not impossible, to be corrected once they have occurred.
Dentistry in the horse is not just the regular floating of teeth, although that is the most common procedure. It is also to create alignment and equilibrium in the mouth.
Regular maintenance of the teeth will allow early diagnosis of abnormal conditions and help prevent a more serious situation. It is a vital and an important component of the health care of your horse.