The teeth of horses are very different from those of humans, or dogs and cats. The major difference is that teeth of horses need regular care to be optimally suitable for what we require of the horse. This is because horse’s teeth are classified as hypsodont, meaning they continually grow throughout the horse’s life and therefore require wear to avoid over growing. Since the outside edges of the upper teeth and the inside edges of the lower teeth are not in contact with the opposing teeth, they continually grow into sharp points.
The modern husbandry of horses is likely a strong contributing factor to today’s common dental problems in our equine friends. Originally, horses were not kept in small pens, pastures and barns and were not fed concentrates and hay. They were required to graze up to 16 hours per day on native grasses for their required daily intake. This activity led to much more even wear of teeth, minimizing the development of sharp edges.
Ideally, preventive dental care begins as soon as the foal is born with an oral exam by a veterinarian for any abnormalities that may be present at birth. Thereafter, an annual oral exam with or without a float, should be completed on every horse. For a thorough dental exam, with or without a float, a full mouth speculum (a devise to hold the mouth open) and sedation must be used. Wolf teeth (the first premolar tooth) should be removed prior to the beginning of training. Wolf teeth sit where the bit should be, causing reduced performance and commonly pain.
“Floating” a horse means correcting any dentition problems that may be present in the horse’s mouth. Most horses only require that the sharp edges be removed and “bit seats” are formed on the first cheek tooth allowing the horse to respond better to the bit. Although some of this work is still done with hand tools, many veterinarians now use electric tools to decrease the time required for the procedure, making it less traumatic for the horse. Due to normal wearing of the teeth, all horses not floated regularly have sharp points on tooth edges and open sores on associated cheeks and tongue. The pain this creates causes restricted mobility in the jaw and reduces feed efficiency and performance. Stiffness in the jaw leads to stiffness in the rest of the body and predisposes the horse to injury.
Less common procedures involve removing caps from deciduous (baby) teeth, improving or eliminating malocclusions (depending on the duration of the problem), and very rarely, removing incisor overgrowth. The benefits of regular dental floats are decreased pain, assisting aging animals maintain a good body condition, and allow our performance horses to be more responsive to the bit. Without exception, all horses require routine dental exams and have some dental problems.
If you have any questions regarding the above information or any questions/concerns in general, please contact Twin Valley VHS at 745-6642.
Dr. Justin Noble DVM
Twin Valley Veterinary Health Services