Frequently Asked Questions
Below you will find some of the common questions we get at North Wind Equine. If your question is not answered, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is floating?
"To float" is a term from masonry which means "to make level or smooth". In equine dentistry, it is simply the process of taking off the sharp enamel points from the cheek teeth.
What makes horse teeth different?
Horses (along with most other grazing animals), have "hypsodont" teeth. Hypsodont means "high crowned," which describes the very tall teeth that horses have when they are young. Only a small portion of the tooth is above the gum line at any point in time. The remainder of the tooth is below the gum line and is called the "reserve crown." As they chew their natural diet of stemmy grasses, the surface of their teeth is worn away. At the same time, the tooth is very slowly erupting out of the gum line so that there is always tooth above the gum line. This process continues throughout the life of the horse. All teeth have a lifespan (anywhere between 20-40 years of age, depending on a variety of factors) after which they will run out of grinding surface. This is a normal aging process and any horse that lives long enough will essentially run out of chewing surface on their teeth (which is why senior feeds, etc. are so important in our older horse population!). [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?
Enamel points are sharp edges of the teeth that have not been worn down due to the normal process of chewing. They form on the cheek (buccal) side of the upper teeth and the tongue (lingual) side of the lower teeth. A horse's upper jaw (maxilla) and upper cheek teeth are wider than the lower jaw (mandible) and lower cheek teeth. Due to their normal side-to-side chewing motion and the discrepancy in the width of the two jaws and teeth, the top teeth do not grind against the inside of the bottom teeth, and vice versa. Since the teeth continue to erupt throughout life (so that the parts that DO touch remain in occlusion), the areas that do NOT touch get taller.
Why is dental equilibration (floating) important?
As the enamel points become more pronounced, they can cause other problems. The taller the points become, the less the horse is above to chew normally side-to-side, and the more they have to chew up and down. This further exacerbates the problem over time. In addition, enamel points can be very sharp or rough and can cause soft tissue trauma in the horse's mouth. Cuts, ulcers, or bruising on their cheeks and tongue is very common. These soft tissue injuries can be uncomfortable, especially with the addition of tack.
The "float" is simply removing these enamel points from the edges of the teeth. This will allow normal chewing motion to resume and will also allow any soft tissue trauma to heal.
Due to a number of reasons, most horses will additionally acquire other abnormal wear patterns (malocclusions, or incorrect bites) due to the fact that their teeth continue to erupt and become overly tall wherever they are unopposed. For example, if a horse is missing a bottom tooth, the top tooth above it will continue to erupt. Because there is nothing to wear it down, this tooth will become very tall. Just like enamel points, malocclusions will affect the ability of the horse to chew normally. Additionally, since enamel is the hardest substance in the body, it can even wear through bone if the tooth becomes tall enough. We correct these malocclusions to restore normal chewing motion and to even out the pressure the horse puts on all their teeth. This process is 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?
This is a very common question for us. Horses living in the wild are eating a very natural diet (grazing on stemmy plants for up to 18 hours a day) and have much fewer problems with enamel points than our intensively managed horses. Grains and concentrates require more up-and-down rather than side-to-side chewing motion. This comes at a cost, however, as wild horses often wear out their teeth well before our domesticated equid partners, and do not get the benefit of supplemented feed as they age. In addition, horses in the wild are not required to work with a bit in their mouth!
Can my horse get cavities?
Yes, horses can get dental problems similar to cavities and may receive fillings and root canals. These procedures are called "endodontics" (endo- "within" and dont- "tooth", so literally, "work within the tooth"). Because their tooth structure is different from ours, a “cavity” is actually due to improper tooth development and is called an infundibular caries.
Isn’t dental work only needed in older horses?
The idea that only old horses need their teeth worked on is incorrect. Just like people, it is easier and more effective to prevent problems than to fix them once they occur. Regular dental examinations and treatments may prolong the life of your horse's teeth and help them as they age. Once a horse has worn out a tooth, it cannot be replaced. Once enough teeth are worn out, the horse will require special feed, such as senior feeds, hay pellets, and/or beet pulp. Dental care at this point in the horse's life is focused on comfort and maximizing the dentition they have left, but there is no magic bullet to help them chew hay again once the teeth are worn out.
How often should my horse have dental work done?
We recommend working on your 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 or if they have other dental problems.