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First Posted: 2007
Jul 25, 2013

Floating Your Horse's Teeth

by Debora Johnson

Have you ever had your horse's teeth floated? Floated? What does that mean? Where did the term floating originate?

Floating is the medical term used to describe the rasping or filing of a horses' teeth. This is done to even the chewing surfaces, remove hooks, points, and sharp edges. The term originated from the masonry term which describes the leveling of a row of bricks (floating). Unlike human beings, your horse's teeth continue to grow throughout a lifetime. Like human beings your horse gets two sets of teeth. Like humans, horse's break their teeth, develop gum problems, get rotten teeth, cracked teeth, ground down teeth, develop irregular chewing surfaces, and get sores in their mouth. Although horses are all different, just like people, most horses will have a complete set of second teeth in their first five years. Horses use their teeth to graze and chew. They use their front teeth (incisors) to grab the forage. These teeth are flat on top--no points. The top and bottom "molars" are used to chew the grass or hay. Visualize the molars as being located along your horse's cheeks or side jaw line. These teeth are the culprits. They tend to develop points and irregular angles. Have you ever noticed how a cow chews his food? It is a side to side motion. The horse eats much in the same fashion. Try to have a mental picture. Because of this side to side motion, the "molars" on the bottom usually develop abnormalities next to the tongue. The "molars"on the top do the opposite.. They develop abnormalities on the outside edge; away from the tongue and next to the cheek.

"The upper and lower molar tables meet together and are naturally rough to enable the horse to grind the feed into small particles. They consist of materials of different hardness which cause higher and lower areas. The objective of correcting molar bite abnormalities is to keep these grinding surfaces as intact as possible. A horse without molar table roughness cannot grind its feed. The Australian Equine Dental Practice promotes 'staged treatment'; this means bite abnormalities are corrected over a longer period of time. This may be the case when a horse is treated for wave mouth or shearbite." Upper and Lower Grinding Molars

Babies and adults have a different number of teeth. The number of teeth depends on the horse's age in development. An adult horse has 12 incisors (six upper and six lower), adapted to biting off the grass or other vegetation, at the front of the mouth. There are 24 teeth adapted for chewing, the premolars and molars, (cheek teeth) located at the back of the mouth. Stallions and geldings have four additional teeth just behind the incisors, a type of canine teeth that are called "tushes." Some horses, both male and female, will also develop one to four very small vestigial teeth in front of the molars, known as "wolf" teeth, which are generally removed because they can interfere with the bit. There is an empty interdental space between the incisors and the molars where the bit rests directly on the bars (gums) of the horse's mouth when the horse is bridled. The incisors show a distinct wear and growth pattern as the horse ages, as well as change in the angle at which the chewing surfaces meet. The teeth continue to erupt throughout life as they are worn down by grazing, and while the diet and veterinary care of the horse can affect the rate of tooth wear, a very rough estimate of the age of a horse can be made by looking at its teeth. For an excellent resource to understand the horse's teeth at different ages and an explanation of the different kinds of teeth go tho the following web site: Dentistry Brochure

Common Dental Problems
  • Sharp points on molars (cheek teeth)

  • Retained caps (baby molars)

  • Bit on wolf teeth

  • Hooks on cheek teeth (molars)

  • Sharp canine teeth or long canine teeth

  • Uneven bite planes

  • Teeth that are worn down too far

  • Infected teeth

  • Misaligned teeth

  • Gum Disease

  • Sores in mouth

When your horse has points or angles that can interfere with eating, cut into his cheeks, cause sores in the mouth, gum problems, or digestive problems because of partially chewed food or lost food out of the sides of the mouth, the vet or specialist in equine teeth should be called. I do this routinely, once a year. When my horses get their spring shots I have the vet do a wellness check as part of the farm call. This check includes checking the status of my horses' teeth.

There are several ways to float your horse's teeth. A rasp can be used to smooth down the points or irregular angles. I prefer this older method as I am an old timer! The newer method is to use a "power float" which is an electric drill much like your dentist uses on you. The horse is usually given a tranquilizer by injection before either method is used. Most horses will not stand still for a floating without a sedative although I have had two horses that would. When using a power float, a metal contraption (called a horse speculum) is used to keep your horse's mouth open. That insures that the floater will not loose a part of their anatomy! It should be noted that the nerves in a horse end close to the gum line. When the horse's teeth are being floated there is no pain from nerves. Many vets or specialists use a pole type device that looks like a Y. The horse's head is balancing on the Y and the stand keeps him stationary and upright. Many horses will relax and drop their heads after being given a sedative. There is also a halter type contraption that is placed on your horse's head and suspended by a rope from some fixed object in the barn. I have only heard about this and read about it. I have never seen it used.

Signs of Possible Teeth Problems
  • Weight loss

  • Drops food out of sides of mouth

  • Chewing problems

  • Swelling in mouth area

  • Nasal discharge
  • Behavioral problems

  • Tosses head with bit

  • Shakes head with bit

  • Chomps at the bit

  • Blood in or around mouth

  • Rearing when bit is applied

  • Drooling (That can also be from eating clover)

  • Offensive mouth odor

  • Undigested food in fecal matter

  • Yawning or opening mouth in an unusual manner

  • Colic


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