Horses are grazing animals with teeth that continue to erupt and wear throughout their lifetime. The front teeth (incisors) clip the grass while the premolars and molars grind the feed before swallowing. We demand more of our performance horses at an earlier age and select breeding animals without regard to proper dental conformation. For these reasons, yearly veterinary dental care is important for the health of the domestic horse, pony, and miniature horses.
Frequently Asked Questions: Equine Dentistry
There is no set time for refloats and check-ups. The interval between each float depends on the individual horse. Generally speaking horses between the ages of 2 and 5 years of age tend to require more frequent exams (at least once a year or less). Once horses have all their permanent (adult) teeth, then they tend to maintain their dentition on their own - as such they can usually be on a yearly schedule. Geriatric horses often benefit from frequent check-ups, but don't always require any work as long as they are doing well and have received regular care over the years. Generally speaking, it is an excellent plan to have your vet check the teeth once a year.
Floating refers strictly to removing the sharp points that develop on the sides of horse's teeth as a result of their eruption pattern and tooth morphology. While sharp points are painful and can significantly affect your horse's performance, they are easy to remove. Equilibration is the process of ensuring that all teeth are in contact and bear the same amount of pressure and wear. Equilibration distributes the wear and pressure that occurs during chewing onto as many viable teeth as possible. This allows horses to live longer and feel better. As such, they also tend to perform better as well. If you would like to learn more equine dentistry and equilibration, please contact Dark Horse.
To do a good job, yes sedation is required. Anyone that has been around horses and practices a bit can remove the sharp points (floating) on horses teeth without using sedation, but that is a far cry from actually balancing the mouth so that all teeth have equal wear. It is not because the procedure itself is painful that sedation is required, but horses are fight or flight animals and it is against their evolutionary adaption to stand still with their mouth open while someone works on their teeth. Horses have hypsodont teeth that do not have nerves close to the surface like humans do. Their nerves are deeper within the tooth so floating does not cause them pain, unless it is overdone. Many times, horses have sores in their mouth from sharpened points, and the sedation eases anxiety when those sharp points are removed, to allow for the mouth to heal completely.
As discussed above, floating simply refers to rasping off the sharp points on the sides of horses' teeth. While this is certainly beneficial, there is far more to equine dentistry than that. Horses have about 2 ½ to 3 inches of tooth as a young adult. Over the course of their life, that tooth will get worn at the rate of a few millimeters a year. The goal of dentistry is to make sure that all the teeth are wearing evenly and with the same amount of pressure; when this is accomplished the teeth will last longer, giving your horse a longer lifespan. To perform this type of dentistry requires advanced training and a wide variety of instruments. There are many different sizes and shapes of teeth on each horse and so it requires several different instruments to perform good dental examinations and treatments within a timely manner. With proper technique, power instruments enable the practitioner to perform improved fine-tuned dental treatments with less stress on the horse in a shorter amount of time.
Bad teeth can result in a variety of health and behavior changes in horses. Here are some of the most common complaints:
No! Most teeth can be pulled orally and standing using sedation and nerve blocks. This requires a significant investment in dental instruments and training, but the success rate is quite high for those veterinary practitioners that specialize in horse dentistry. Horse teeth have long roots and can be very challenging to extract. General anesthesia involves a certain amount of risk and generally adds significantly to the cost of a procedure. Using the latest techniques and specially designed instruments, Dr. Hoke can remove virtually any teeth with the horse standing. Even teeth that are fractured, diseased, or missing clinical crown can be removed using minimally invasive techniques that cause less trauma for the horse and costs less money for the client. Before you consider the expense, recovery time, and risks for a dental surgery under general anesthesia, please contact us to learn more about the benefits of alternative procedure for extracting equine teeth.
Wolf teeth are technically considered the first pre-molar. Through evolution, horse teeth have evolved as the climate has changed. Horses used to have 7 cheek teeth (molars + pre-molars) and as climate warmed up and plants became softer and grasses were more available, the need for an extra pre-molar to help grind coarse feed diminished. At this point in time, wolf teeth are small vestigial teeth that lie in front of the second premolar. Because they are small in size and shallow rooted, they can become loose, especially if they contact the bit. This causes them to become painful and may lead to some behavior changes. Depending on the horse's conformation, riding discipline, and bit used, wolf teeth may or may not be a problem. In broodmares or horses only ridden with a hackamore or bosal, wolf teeth should not be of any concern. However, if ownership of the horse changes and the new owner uses a bit, the horse may react to it. As such, it is generally - but not always- advocated to extract the wolf teeth. They are small teeth and so removal is an easy procedure. Horses can have wolf teeth on top (upper bars) as well as on the bottom.
Blind wolf teeth generally occur on the upper bars in front of the second pre-molars and are deviated. Instead of erupting in a normal up and down fashion, blind wolf teeth erupt sideways and lie under the gumline. Blind wolf teeth are often painful and interfere with bitting. They are easy to miss as they cannot be seen protruding into the oral cavity.