Equine Dentistry: Why are routine dental exams and floats important?

Routine dental care is one of the most important factors for good equine health.  A horse with a mouth in good working order with optimal occlusion is generally better at maintaining weight, more comfortable when bridled and less likely to choke or colic.  We routinely check teeth at vaccine appointments and recommend a float if we see any malocclusions or sharp points.  If a horse will not tolerate an oral exam, we recommend a sedated exam and will address any abnormalities at that time.

Horses that masticate (chew) feed and hay well are likely to better digest and absorb nutrients from their feedstuffs.  When grinding surfaces of teeth are not level in all areas of the mouth, it is hard for a horse to chew feed appropriately.  Horses in need of dentistry work may chew with their head tilted, drop feed, or even quid.  “Quidding” is a term used when horses cannot chew grass or hay and leave partially chewed wads of forage on the ground.  When a horse quids, they are not receiving any nutritional benefit from the forage and are also likely to choke since the forage is not ready to swallow.  Often times a dental float can address and correct quidding.  Missing teeth can also cause quidding.  Although we cannot correct missing teeth, we can often make the remaining teeth more functional with dentistry.  Horses that are “hard keepers” or geriatric usually benefit from a dental float due to improved comfort and ability to chew.  With today’s high feed costs, it is also economical to float horses’ teeth to reduce feed costs related to maintenance of a hard keeper.


These teeth are in an older horse. Notice the tall teeth on the upper arcade, and the very short teeth on the bottom.


Also from an older horse. These teeth were very loose and came out during a float. Notice that the tooth on the right has a giant cavity in the center.

Horses are prone to “hooks” and “sharp enamel points” in certain areas of their dentition that can interfere with comfort and acceptance of the bit when bridled.  Unfortunately, horses tend to form hooks (long or tall teeth) on their first premolars which usually interfere with the bit.  Often times a horse with hooks will toss their head or be reluctant to be supple to a rider’s aides.  Wolf teeth are small teeth that erupt in front of the first cheek teeth.  Extraction is simple, and ideally should be done before a young horse is started in bridle.  Canines are larger teeth that erupt in the interdental space routinely in males, less common in mares, and rarely interfere with the bit.  Sharp enamel points form along the sides of the upper cheek teeth causing oral ulcers and pinch the horse’s cheek when bridled.  If your riding partner is fussy when bitted, dental problems should be ruled out and addressed.

Horses with routine dentistry throughout life are less prone to dental disease as they age.  Addressing and correcting subtle malocclusions throughout life with annual or semiannual dentals prevent major malocclusions in geriatric horses.  Genetics or abnormal conformation will predispose a horse to common dental abnormalities.  These abnormalities progress with age and significantly impacts how well a horse can chew.  If dental disease is not addressed early, it is difficult to correct in a geriatric horse.  Dental floats are also a good time to notice oral tumors, loose or broken teeth, and other sources of pain.


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