As many of you are aware, floating of horses’ teeth has been around for centuries. From Roman soldiers to the US Cavalry, horsemen carried files to chip off continually growing and erupting sharp points to reduce sensitivity to their horses’ cheeks and tongues.
Many horse owners have their horse’s teeth floated at least once per year as part of their routine veterinarian check-up. While this is an accepted practice, the advancements that have been made in equine dental care now allow us to better detect, prevent and treat more serious oral problems (malocclusion).
Examples of oral malocclusions include:
- severe hooks, ramps and waves
- malformed teeth (agenesis)
- deciduous incisors
- pre-molar extractions
Simply having your horse’s mouth floated may reduce sharp points and provide some relief; however, multiple malocclusions are often times missed and could still remain, which may cause more severe discomfort.
A thorough examination by a trained equine dentist, or veterinarian who specializes in dentistry, can provide treatment of disease and infection by removing the cause of dental pain, improve feed efficiency and a longer healthier outlook for your horse resulting in an improved relationship between horse and rider.
If we address this in human terms, a person who has a decayed tooth with an exposed nerve is extremely sensitive to heat, cold, and chewing. Pain increases as the tooth deteriorates and finally a visit to the human dentist is required. At the Dentist’s office, the Dental Technician thoroughly cleans all of the teeth, applies prophy paste and fluoride and the person is finished.
Although the person went to the dentist and had a treatment performed, the person is still leaving the office with the same problem, and likely the same pain.
Similarly, if a horse requires a pre-molar or wolf tooth extraction and there is evidence of foul odor, head shyness, poor eating habits (dropping of feed), resisting the bit, tossing the head, etc., and this horse is just floated, the oral problem still exists. It may be even worse, as the affected pain areas have been in contact with heavy sharp blades and instruments used in the floating process.
A trained equine dentist will detect the need to extract the required teeth to eliminate the oral discomfort, restructure and redesign the horse’s front incisors and back molars, correct any other malocclusions, and of course remove any and all sharp points.
This process is what equine dentistry is really about: the total correction of equine mouth malocclusions and the relief of pain from all oral ailments adversely affecting the horse.
It is not unusual for me to provide equine dental treatment to a horse who was recently floated, only to find that pre-molar caps (baby teeth in the back) were filed upward rather than extracted. Consequently, these teeth are now causing more pain, and the space between the permanent molar and the baby pre-molar is packed with decaying feed and bacteria, resulting in a pronounced foul odor.
In this situation, as in the human example, the horse was treated, but the oral dental problem still remains.
SO HOW DO WILD HORSES COPE?
The answer is simple. Horses in the wild graze 18 hours a day on natural grass/vegetation and in the process also chew all of the granular dirt, pebbles, and sand associated with wild vegetation. Some of their razor sharp aberrant points wear down with the constant grinding of the teeth. Think of sharp rocks on a jetty into the ocean. The rocks at first are sharp and jagged but with the constant pounding of waves, they become smoother.
Horses in captivity are normally fed twice per day. While grazing time may be offered during turnout, it in no way compares to the 18-hour regimen the horses in the wild experience on a daily basis. In addition, we keep our horses when they’re well into their 30s. The normal life expectancy in the wild is generally much shorter. A wild horse’s extensive granular chewing will keep some of the sharp points in check for a while; as the points continue to grow and hooks, ramps, and broken teeth appear, the horse’s ability to eat decreases.
Everything changes with time (hopefully for the better) as our society becomes more advanced and educated. It is up to horse owners to determine what is best for their horses, what state-of-the-art advancements have been made in equine dentistry, and if floating is sufficient; to ensure the optimum health and welfare of the friends they enjoy riding so much.
Dennis S. Chapman, an Equine Dental Practitioner owns STABLE 2 STABLE Equine Dental Practice P.C. (a Fully Insured Medical Malpractice Professional Corporation). He is a graduate of the American School of Equine Dentistry and practitioner with The Academy of Equine Science.