Dental health and care are as important for horses as for humans. However, unlike human teeth, horse teeth continue to grow and require unique care. While grazing naturally wears down teeth this may leave them uneven, potentially causing issues that can become severe without proper care from a veterinarian experienced in dental care.
One of our veterinarians performs annual “dental floating”. The term “floating” refers to the filing or rasping of a horse’s teeth and gets its name from the instrument used; the “dental float”. For the safety of the horse and veterinarian and for the comfort of the horse, sedation is required for an effective dental exam. Before the exam begins, Dr. Brown flushes the mouth to remove any food particles.
Once the horse’s mouth is clean, the speculum is put in place to hold the mouth open and a platform is placed under the chin so that the horse can rest its head. Dr. Brown then inspects the teeth for sharp points or hooks, tooth decay, and abscesses. The electric dental float will smooth any sharp points or hooks and improve evenness of the bite. If a particularly long hook were found, Dr. Brown would only float a limited percentage of the tooth and return for a follow-up in 3 to 6 months.
If a tooth is missing, the opposite tooth will continue to grow into the vacant area, creating hooks. Removal of these sharp points prevents cheek or tongue lacerations that can lead to ulcers. The pain induced by an ulcer or laceration would make it difficult for a horse to eat, this would lead to dropping feed and ultimately weight loss. Inability to eat is also a consequence of tooth decay and abscesses. Removing the affected tooth commonly treats these issues and in some mild cases, performing a root canal may treat tooth decay.
While the thought of the dental floating process may make you cringe, it is important to note the unique difference between the tooth of a horse and a human. The root section of a horse’s tooth, where the nerve is located, is short and the crown is very long. There is no pain to the horse during floating as sharp points and hooks form at the top of the crown, far from the sensitive root.
Proper dental care by an equine dental professional is key for all horses at every stage of their life and career.