Laurelyn Keener, DVM
Julie Layeux-Parks, DVM
Alli Delheimer, DVM

Licensed in MN, WI & ND
Common Questions About Equine Dentistry
This page is dedicated to answer some of the common questions we get here at North Wiind Equine.  If your question is not answered, feel free to email us at North Wind Equine, LLC
Click the link on the left of this page for a fact sheet on EOTRH

What is floating? "To float" is to make the surface level or smooth. Derived from masonry when the putty was floated between layers of stone/brick

What does hypsodont mean?
- "Hypso-" being Greek for height or top, for example, hypsometry is the study of elevation
- "-dont" literally meaning teeth, as in orthoDONTics and endoDONTics.

What makes horse teeth different? Due to the nature of their evolved diet (stemmy grasses), horses (and most grazing animals, including elephants) are hypsodonts. In grinding their food, they wear away the crown of their tooth. Thus, they are born with a large (or TALL, relating to "hypso") tooth which lies below the surface of the gum (known as "reserve crown"). As their teeth are worn down, they continue to erupt so that they are always "in occlusion" (they meet). This process continues UNTIL the tooth wears out (anywhere between 20 and 40 years of age, depending on which tooth, the diet and dental care of the animal, etc.) [Please note, this is different than rodents, whose front teeth continue to GROW throughout their lifetime and will never "wear out".]

What is an enamel point? The horse's skull is such that the maxilla (upper jaw) is wider than the mandible (lower jaw). They chew, not in an up-and-down motion, but in a side-to-side motion, thus mashing and crushing the stemmy grass. However, due to the discrepancy in the width of the two jaws (and actually, the teeth themselves!), the top teeth do not touch the inside of the bottom teeth, nor the bottom touch the outside of the top teeth. Thus, neither the entire top nor bottom tooth is worn "flat" through chewing. As the tooth continues to erupt so that the parts that DO touch remain in occlusion, the areas that do NOT touch, get longer. Thus, "enamel points" are formed: on the lingual (tongue) side of the lower teeth and the buccal (cheek) side of the upper teeth.

Why is dental equilibration (floating) important? As the points become more pronounced they cause other problems... The side-to-side chewing motion becomes "locked" and the horse must chew more up-and-down, exacerbating the problem because less of the upper and lower teeth are in contact to wear each other down - creating somewhat of a lopsided wagon rut in the teeth.

That's where the float comes in. Traditionally, it looked like a huge nail file. Now, it's been refined in some forms, but less so in others... The idea is that a large file is used to grind away the enamel points, allowing the horse to chew from side-to-side. Effectively, flattening, or "floating" the surface of the tooth.

Due to a number of reasons, horses will acquire other abnormal wear patterns (malocclusions, or incorrect bites) due to the fact that their teeth continue to erupt and grow long wherever they are unopposed. For example, if a horse is missing a bottom tooth, the top tooth opposite of it will continue to grow because there is nothing to wear it down. Because enamel is the hardest substance in the body, it will continue to grow even when it meets the toothless gum. And the bone below that gum! Thus, we must wear it down for them, using a float or a burr of some sort. Effectively, we're changing the interactions of the teeth, like an orthodontist. These procedures are called "odontoplasty" - literally a procedure to change the way the teeth work together.

Wild horses don’t get their teeth floated, so why should my horse? At this point, I'm sure you're asking "so what do wild horses do?" First of all, horses that are eating their natural diet (aka, grazing on stemmy plants for up to 18 hours a day) have much fewer problems with points than horses who are fed a meal of oats or grain twice a day. The nature of grain requires more of an up and down rather than side to side chewing motion. Also, horses in the wild are not required to work with a bit in their mouth OR expected to live 30+ years!

Can my horse get cavities? Yes, horses can get cavities and may receive fillings and root canals - endodontics (endo- meaning "within", thus, "work within the tooth). Because their tooth structure is different from ours, a “cavity” is actually caused from the improper tooth development and is called infundibular necrosis.

Isn’t dental work only needed in older horses? The idea that only old horses need their teeth worked on is passé. Just like people, it is easier and more effective to prevent problems than to fix them. Once a horse has worn out a tooth, it cannot be replaced. Even a horse with ideal teeth will hopefully live long enough to wear them out, at which point the advances in senior diets allow horses to live quite well on a gruel or mash that they do not need to chew to obtain their energy requirements.

How often should my horse have dental work done? We begin working on horse’s teeth before they are bitted (1-5 years old, depending on the breed and discipline). During this time in their lives, horses will shed 24-32 deciduous (baby) teeth and erupt 36-44 permanent teeth. Their teeth are softer when they are young, and thus develop sharp points more quickly than when they are older. During this critical period, it is recommended that they be seen every six months until all of their permanent teeth are in place (4.5-5 years of age). After that time, most horses should be seen annually, as they will develop sharp points within a year. Some horses may require more frequent visits if their malocclusions warrant them. As a horse moves into their late teenage years, they may require less frequent visits. Once they start to run out of reserve crown and have worn their teeth out, annual exams are recommended to monitor for signs of periodontal (gum) disease and loose teeth that may need extraction.

Just because more than half of your horse’s teeth are out of sight, don’t let them be out of mind.