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Floating a

Horse's Teeth

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Float a Horse's Teeth -- What does that mean and
why is it Necessary?

Randall Holman

So what does it mean to float a horse's teeth? I'm sure you've
heard this a time or two (if you haven't, sooner or later you
will from another horse owner or from your vet), and if you're
like me, you imagined for the longest time what this could
possibly mean and wondered what it involved.

To float a horse's teeth certainly sounds funny, too.

Floating means to smooth or contour your horse's teeth with a
file (called a "float"). Unlike your own teeth, your horse's
teeth keep growing. At times, your horse's teeth may develop
sharp edges, making it difficult for her to chew food, hold a
bit, or simply have pain and discomfort inside her mouth.

An adult horse may have between 36-44 permanent teeth. And just
like humans, your horse gets two sets of teeth in her lifetime.
Your horse starts out with temporary baby teeth and by age five,
will most likely have her full set of permanent teeth.

The horse's front teeth cut hay and grass, while the top and
bottom cheek teeth grind the forage between the flat surfaces in
a sideways motion. This grinding action breaks down the food into
a pulp before swallowing which helps it to be digested better. If
your horse is unable to grind down food all the way due to uneven
teeth surfaces, the unchewed food will not be digested as well.

Most often, points develop on the upper cheek teeth toward the
outside of the mouth next to your horse's cheek. And on the
bottom cheek teeth toward the inside of the mouth next to your
horse's tongue. These points can then cut into the cheek and
tongue making your horse uncomfortable.

Though it may seem tedious and like a burden, you know having
routine dentist check-ups contribute to the overall good health
of your own teeth. Well, your horse is no different and deserves
some of the same attention to her teeth as you give to yours.
Confined horses or those that do not have the ability to graze
all day are more prone to teeth overgrowth, as they are not
naturally grinding their teeth all day to keep them smooth. Also,
just like you, your horse can have other dental problems. A horse
can have excessively worn teeth, loose or broken teeth, or
infected gums.

One sign that your horse's teeth may need to be floated is if she
is consistently dropping food from her mouth and you start seeing
signs of weight loss. Your horse may also exhibit behavior like
head-tossing or opening her mouth frequently.

Possible horse dental problem indicators:

Drops food from her mouth
Exhibits difficulty in chewing
Excessive salivation
Loss of weight
Undigested food particles in manure
Excessive bit chewing
Resisting having the bridle put on
Difficult handling while riding
Mouth odor
Blood in the mouth
Face swelling
Nasal discharge

Because horses are adaptable creatures, even if they are having
discomfort, some do not show any signs of dental problems. So
don't assume that if there are no symptoms, there are no

Sharp teeth edges can hurt the inside of your horse's mouth
causing pain and creating sores on her tongue or cheeks. Your
horse may show resistance when riding due to added pain from the
bit pressing against the sores.

The vet or equine dentist will carefully file all your horse's
teeth that need smoothing to achieve a flat grinding surface
between the upper and lower teeth. Having your horse's teeth
floated is well worth it so she digests her food better, is in
better spirits, and makes riding more enjoyable for you both.

How often floating is necessary varies quite a bit from one horse
to another. Some horses seem to have slower-growing teeth and may
require floating only once every several years while others may
require floating every few months. Even if your horse does not
require her teeth to be floated often, it is still a good idea to
have her teeth and gums examined once a year.

The procedure the vet typically uses to float your horse's teeth
is to first sedate your horse to make her relaxed. A special
halter is put on with a rope thrown over a ceiling rafter or the
equivalent in order to hold your horse's head up. A mouth
speculum is used to keep your horse's mouth open. The vet will
then either manually file your horse's teeth using a rasp in a
back and forth motion to flatten the high points, or may use a
power tool. The whole procedure is quick and painless - taking
about 15 to 20 minutes to complete.

If you're like me, you cringe at the thought of someone filing
away on your teeth with a rasp. You can imagine the shooting pain
from the nerves in your teeth. Personally, the dentist can't give
me enough Novocain to make me feel comfortable before poking
around or drilling in my mouth.

Unlike us, a horse's nerves end close to the gumline, so there is
no nerve where the tooth is being worked on, and therefore does
not feel any nerve pain. We humans should be so lucky.

Randall Holman, site owner of Front Range Frenzy and horse
enthusiast, is the author of the above article. You will find
other easy and practical basic horse care information on his

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