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Routine maintenance of a horse's teeth has been historically referred to as "floating".
Floating removes the sharp enamel points and can help create a more even bite plane.
Routine examination and maintenance should also include identification and correction of any
When turned out on pasture, horses browse almost continuously, picking up dirt and grit in
the process. This, plus the silicate in grass, wears down the teeth. Stabled horses, however,
may not give their teeth the same workout. Feedings are more apt to be scheduled, not continuous,
and to include processed grains and hays. Softer feeds require less chewing. This may allow the
horse's teeth to become excessively long or to wear unevenly. Adult horse's teeth erupt throughout
their life and are worn off by chewing.
Unfortunately, cheek teeth tend to develop sharp enamel points even under normal grazing
conditions. Because the horse's lower jaw is narrower than its upper jaw and the horse
grinds its feed with a sideways motion, sharp points tend to form along the edges. Points
form on the cheek side of the upper teeth and the tongue side of the lower teeth. These points
should be rasped to prevent them from cutting the cheeks and tongue.
Routine maintenance is especially important in horses who have lost a tooth, or whose teeth
are in poor apposition and do not fit together well. Normally, contact with the apposing tooth keeps
biting surfaces equal. When cheek teeth are out of alignment, hooks can form.
If left unchecked, these hooks can become long enough to penetrate the hard or soft palate.
Small hooks can be removed with rasps. Longer hooks are usually removed with molar cutters or a
Wolf teeth are very small teeth located in front of the second premolar and do not have
long roots that set them firmly in the jaw bone. They rarely appear in the lower jaw. A horse
may have one to four wolf teeth, or none at all. While not all wolf teeth are troublesome,
veterinarians routinely remove them to prevent pain or interference from a bit.
THE AGE FACTOR
The age of a horse affects the degree of attention and frequency of dental care required.
Consider these points:
- Horse going into training for the first time, especially 2 and 3 year-olds, need a
comprehensive dental check-up. Teeth should be floated to remove any sharp points and checked
for retained caps. Caps should be removed if they have not been shed. This should be done before
training begins, to prevent training problems related to sharp teeth.
- Even yearlings have been found to have enamel points sharp enough to damage cheek and tongue
tissue. Floating may improve feed efficiency and make the horse more comfortable.
- Horses 2-5 years old may require more frequency dental exams than older horses. Deciduous teeth
tend to be softer than permanent teeth and may develop sharp enamel points more quickly. Also,
there is an extraordinary amount of dental maturation during this period. Twenty-four teeth
will be shed and replaced during this time, with the potential for 12-16 teeth to be erupting
simultaneously. Horses in this age group should be examined twice yearly, and any necessary
procedures should be performed.
- Even the best dental program may not be able to solve or alleviate all of a young horse's
- Mature horses should get a thorough dental examination at least once a year, whether or not
there are signs of tooth problems.
- It is important to maintain an even bite platen during a horse's middle teens in order to ensure
a level grinding surface into its 20's. If you wait until the horse is in its 20's, the surfaces may
be worn excessively and/or unevenly, and since the teeth are no longer erupting at this age,
alignment may be impossible.
DEVELOPING GREATER AWARENESS
- If a horse starts behaving abnormally, dental problems should be considered as a potential
- Abnormalities should be corrected and teeth should be gloated and maintained as indicated.
- Wolf teeth are routinely extracted from performance horses to prevent interference with the bit
and its associated pain.
- Sedatives, local anesthetics, and analgesics relax the horse and keep it more comfortable during
floating and other dental procedures. Such drugs should be administered only by a veterinarian.
- If your equine practitioner finds a loose tooth, he or she may choose to extract it. This may
reduce the chance of infection or other problems.
- Canine teeth, generally present in mature geldings and stallions and sometimes mares, are usually
clipped and filed smooth to prevent interference with the bit. This also reduces the possibility of
injury to both horse and human.
- Depending on the condition of your horse's teeth, more than one visit from your equine practitioner
may be required to get the mouth in prime working order.
- It is important to catch dental problems early. Waiting too long may increase the difficulty of
remedying certain conditions or may even make remedy impossible.
- Older horses should have their teeth examined at least once yearly or as recommended by your equine
Thanks to the American Association of Equine Practitioners for this information.