What you may not know about Equine dental care!

posted: by: Megan Slamka, DVM Tags: "Clinic Specials" "News" 

What you may not know about equine dental care!

By Megan Slamka, DVM


Although they may not be brushing twice a day, preventative dental care is just as important to the overall health in our horses as it is in us. The following is a Q & A that emphasizes what every horse owner should know about keeping there horses teeth happy and healthy for years to come.


  1. What does it mean to “float” teeth?
    1. Dental care in the 21st century has come leaps and bounds over the days of simply grabbing the tongue and sliding a hand float over sharp points. Today’s veterinarians are highly trained in examining and treating a variety of dental and oral abnormalities of the equine mouth beyond correcting sharp points. Due to the pattern in which horses chew, the conformation of their jaw, the types of food that they eat and the continuously erupting nature of their teeth causes sharp points to form at the outside edges of the upper cheek teeth (premolars and molars) and the inside edges (nearest the tongue) of the lower cheek teeth. Sharp points need to be smoothed out or floated once a year in most horses to prevent further oral trauma and other dental disease.
    2. To do so, your veterinarian will first start with a thorough oral exam. This involves giving your horse sedation to allow muscle relaxation of the jaw and facilitate application of a dental speculum. The speculum is a device that evenly distributes the weight of the horses jaw to allow examination of the entire oral cavity.  Your veterinarian will then thoroughly rinse the mouth. Using a bright light, the veterinarian will assess the horse’s mouth for a variety of abnormalities including foul odor, inflammation, ulceration, lacerations, foreign bodies and neoplasia. The veterinarian will then inspect each tooth for evidence of missing, loose or fractured teeth with or without associated periodontal disease. Further, diagnostics can then be recommended such as dental radiographs pending your veterinarian’s exam findings.
    3. There are both manual types of floats as well as a variety of rotary types. The use of a power or rotary type float not only allows the veterinary to quickly and effectively smooth sharp edges, but also to treat things like sharp hooks in the back of the mouth that cannot be reached with a handfloat alone. Wave conformations as well as ramps are some of the other abnormal findings that can also be corrected utilizing a powerfloat. By using a rotary device, these treatments can be done more precisely and efficiently than with traditional techniques that allow us to provide better care for your horse.
  2. How often should horses have their teeth floated?
    1. From birth to approximately 5 years in age, the horses mouth changes from having 24 deciduous teeth that erupt and shed to 36 to 44 permanent teeth. Therefore, it is recommended to have a brief dental exam twice a year until the horse reaches 5. Between the ages of 5 and 15 a minimum of a yearly dental exam is recommended. This may or may not include floating of the teeth. This depends on the individual horse taking into consideration the type of work they do, what they eat and genetics. However, the average pleasure horse with plenty of forage in their diet will likely require floating yearly to every other year. Although, the horses teeth continuously erupt they only have a certain amount of reserve crown underneath the gum. When this runs out or expires, the horse looses that chewing surface. Therefore, aggressive floating is not recommended and having a trained professional is of upmost importance to maintain overall care of your horse. Although the law varies by state, only licensed veterinarians should be administering sedation or analgesia to your horse and only licensed veterinarians should be diagnosing and treating dental problems.
  3. How will my horse benefit from routine dental checks?
    1. Horses are living longer and longer every year; this is largely attributable to advances in veterinary care such as dentistry and nutrition. Horses with dental disease and/or expired teeth have increased difficulty in grasping (prehending), chewing and subsequently digesting their feed.  Poor digestion leads to weight loss, certain types of colic, as well as, a weakened immune response; all of which impact the life span of your horse.


The staff at South Carolina Equine will be happy to speak with you further regarding any questions or concerns you may have regarding your horses dental care and nutrition! A more detailed article highlighting the equine dental topics discussed can be found at http://www.aaep.org/info/horse-health?publications=733 (select dentistry).