Have you ever had the experience of working with a farrier who had a fancy rig, forged all his own shoes, made the feet look perfect but could not keep a horse sound? Have you ever worked with a farrier who carried a handful of tools and a bag of keg shoes in the back of his beat up pickup truck, but horses he shod never took a lame step? Dentistry is much like shoeing in this way. It is not about the tools but how they are used. Like shoeing, with floating teeth sometimes less is best.
When I went to vet school, I was taught very little about dentistry. When I floated teeth my main concern was to get the sharp edges off so the horse would not be in pain when he chewed. After graduation I met a lay dentist who helped me understand about balancing the molar arcades and reducing incisors. The lay dentist I worked with used hand tools to remove sharp points and power tools for balancing. When he finished working on a horse every sharp edge was removed and the chewing motion was smooth.
Recently I worked with a lay dentist who had a different take on floating . His philosophy was to remove only rough areas on the teeth that were actually causing irritation or interfering with the chewing motion. This would leave the horse with maximum ability to grind his food. Incisors were reduced if they interfered with the free motion of the jaw side-to-side or forward or backward. When he finished working on a horse the teeth still felt rough but the chewing motion was smooth. The interesting thing was that most horses allowed this work to be done with no sedation. It seems in the horse's mind less is best.
The Pros and Cons of Power Floating
The invention of power dental tools has made dentistry much less labor intensive. Power tools are useful when a horse has serious imbalance in his molar arcades. Waves, ramps, and hooks can seriously interfere with the chewing motion and set the horse up for issues with his temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Power tools also get the job done faster and this is an advantage for some horses that are seriously resistant. The drawbacks of power tools are the tendency to do too much, need for heavy sedation and possible damage to the teeth from heat generated during the grinding. Power tools in the hands of a person with training can be used well but in the hands of someone without experience or proper knowledge can create damage much more quickly than hand tools.
Pros of power floating:
* Less work for the dentist
* Ability to correct serious imbalance
* Faster for horses that resist dental work
Cons of power floating:
* Tendency to do too much
* Sedation required
* Heat damage to the teeth
* Harm done by tools due to inexperience
Sedation should be done or supervised by a veterinarian. A veterinarian is trained in the use of medications. Proper use of sedation drugs takes experience. You can't depend on the dose listed on the bottle to achieve desired results. A 300-pound feral donkey may require more drugs than a 2000-pound gentle draft horse. Technique for giving an injection is also a skill. Drugs given outside of a vein will not work as expected and can cause tissue damage. If a drug is injected into an artery rather than a vein the results can be fatal. If a mistake is made, the veterinarian is likely to be in a better position to deal with the situation. There are now oral sedation drugs that can be used for routine dentistry. These drugs take longer to act but are safer than injections.
* Should be done by or supervised by a veterinarian
* Should be based on metabolism and temperament, not size
* Must get drugs inside the vein
* Must have proper technique to avoid injection into an artery
* Oral drugs are an option
Performance Float versus Health Float
The goal of very float should be to leave the horse with a pain-free mouth and free motion of the molar side to side as well as forward and back. Ramps or hooks on the teeth that interfere with forward and backward motion of the jaw will cause TMJ issues. The performance horse has some additional needs if he is going to wear a bit. Wolf teeth and bit seats should be considered if a bit is used. Removing wolf teeth and rounding (not removing) the corners of the premolars is especially important if a horse has thick lips. The concern is not about the bit hitting these teeth but the inner skin of the lips being pinched when bit pressure is applied. If a horse is working fine with wolf teeth and no bit seats then all is good, but if a horse does not seem happy with his mouth then check to make sure there is no extra lip tissue getting pinched.
* Gives the horse a pain free mouth
* Provides free motion of the jaw
* Considers wolf teeth removal and/or bit seats
When dealing with dental work, like hoof care, the value of the end result is not how it looks but how it functions. You want the least amount of work that gives the horse comfort and good function.
Unless otherwise attributed, all material is written and edited by Madalyn Ward, DVM. Copyright (c) 2013 HolisticHorsekeeping.com and Madalyn Ward, DVM. All rights reserved.
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