Have you had your horse’s teeth floated lately?
Equine Extension Specialist
Floating refers to filing the sharp points off the molars and sometimes the incisor teeth. A mare will have 36 teeth, 24 molars and 12 incisors and a gelding or stallion will have 40 teeth, 24 molars, 12 incisors and 4 canines. The incisors are the teeth located in the front often used to tell the age of the horse and the molars are found in the back along the top and bottom jaw. When a horse chews grass or hay, the jaws (mandibles) move side to side and during this movement sharp points can develop along the arcade of teeth in both the incisors and molars. Generally, most horses’ top jaw will tend to be slightly longer than the under jaw but a severe difference may create additional problems especially in regards to the horse chewing or masticating its food such as dropping food or chewing for long bouts of times between bites. If a horse has problems masticating its food it could lead to a loss of weight due to compromised digestion as well as poor performance when riding. Keep in mind; the every day wear and tear of how the mandibles move may create discomfort in your horse that could also lead to weight loss or poor performance when riding them. So, at least an annual dental exam is recommended. A dental exam could possibly lead to the discovery of other conditions that may lead to decreased performance such as the presences of additional teeth called wolf teeth.
Wolf teeth may erupt in the horse’s mouth around 5-6 months. Veterinarians and professionals generally recommend removing wolf teeth immediately because they can cause many biting issues. For example, a common bit used to start or work young or green horses is a snaffle, a bit with rings on the side and is either broken or solid in the mouthpiece but no shanks may come in contact with the wolf teeth when pressure is applied. The snaffle can easily be pulled to the corner of the mouth and then engage in contact with the wolf tooth or teeth, which is typically located in front of the molars. These teeth are thought to be more sensitive than the other teeth hence the frequency of reactive behavior from horses who do have wolf teeth such as tossing their head violently or even rearing when being ridden. In fact, a horse may have one to four wolf teeth, but keep in mind not all horses will develop wolf teeth so one should check on at least an annual basis in young horses.
In the past many professionals recommended dental care for only older horses yet today it’s more common to begin floating teeth prior to a young horse beginning training. Often times many behavioral issues when starting young horses that have not had their teeth examined may be directly linked to their teeth. A horse with a tooth condition or teeth that need to be floated may refuse to flex at the poll, may carry their head to the side, be stiff when turning on one side, toss their head, rear up, and even refuse to be bridled. So, it’s ideal to have horses teeth floated and checked prior to starting a training program.
In general, most veterinarians will recommend having your horse’s teeth floated at least once a year. Some horses may require their teeth be floated more often especially if a horse is being used for daily work or performance. The period of time where most changes take place occurs from a year and a half to 5 years of age, the same period when most horses are beginning training or for some in the prime of their performance career entered in futurities. If a veterinarian begins inspecting and checking a horse’s teeth at an early age this may prevent major conditions or even subtle changes or conditions from occurring later in life as well as prevent compromises in poor performance or resistance to the bridle.
Dental conditions can even cause problems and issues with where the bit may sit in the mouth. For example, if a horse has genetic dental deformities such as being parrot or monkey mouth this could lead to problems properly fitting the bit to the bars (the space where the bit lies in the horse’s mouth). Monkey mouth is where the under jaw is longer than the top.
Having your horse’s teeth floated can help improve the mobility of the jaw which in return may help your horse better accept and carry the bit as well as masticate its food. A study conducted in Europe found that mobility of the horse’s mandible (jaw) improved after the teeth were floated. They also found that larger draft and warmblood breeds had increased flexion at the poll after having their teeth floated. In general, your veterinarian or equine dentist should be able to develop what’s called a bit seat, by rounding off the first four cheek teeth to prevent interferences with the bit but this “bit seat” maybe specialized according to your horse’s job.
Floating can be accomplished using hand held tools or electric tools. Dentists that use electric tools appreciate the fact they can get a more even surface and possibly decrease the amount of stress on the horse because the tools are faster than the typical hand held devices. However, it’s important that when power tools are being used that they are cooled often to prevent over heating and damage to the horse’s mouth.
A horse that is only being kept for maintenance or as a companion animal will not have the need for a “bit seat” but should still have their teeth done on a regular basis at least once a year. If you have a performance horse it’s not a bad idea to have your horse’s teeth checked more often such as every 3-4 months especially if you are showing a young horse. Some trainers or professional may also require that a young horse have his teeth checked prior to beginning training to eliminate any dental issues.
In conclusion, have your horse’s teeth floated at least once a year if your horse is not working for a living and if your horse is a performance horse (show, rodeo, endurance, ranch horse, etc.) consider a professional checking their teeth more often. Also, consider looking at how the bit sits in your horse’s mouth and if your tack (example: headstall) is properly fitted to your horse.
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