Why do I need to have my horse’s teeth checked and floated?



Horses have teeth that are continually erupting (growing).  So, they can tend to erupt in many wonky patterns and cause problems.  Ideally, horses should be examined by a Veterinarian twice yearly to look for dental issues.  (Nobody panic here, most Vets are happy to do this at the same time as yearly and booster vaccines.)  If your Vet sees a problem, you can schedule a floating or other dental procedure at that time.  It’s very likely that an actual floating will be needed annually, but it’s good to check more often just in case. 


Dental exams should start as a foal, to ensure proper growth, alignment, and wear.  When a horse nears the age of being started under saddle, have your Veterinarian conduct an exam before you first use bits, to be sure the wolf teeth are removed and the mouth is ready for a bit. 


However, dental issues can arise between Veterinary checks, so it’s critical to watch out for these issues which may indicate a dental problem:

-Training issues, especially with the bit

-Head tossing

-Dropping food while chewing

-Head tilted while eating

-Excessive bit mouthing


-Undigested grain in manure

-Weight loss

-Bad breath or nasal discharge


Yes, these are also signs of other issues, so it’s best to have the Veterinarian out for a “look-see”.  Just in case. 


There are several things that your Veterinarian can find during a dental exam, including hooks, waves, and ramps.  In the most basic of descriptions, hooks are sharp edges that can cause ulcers and painful sores.  Waves occur when adjacent cheek teeth grown different heights.  The opposing jaw will mimic this growth.  Ramps are the gradual lengthening of the crown.  


You will run into some more serious trouble with a step mouth or a shear mouth.  A step mouth occurs when there is a missing tooth, and it’s “partner” on the opposing jaw can overgrow into the space of the missing tooth.  This can lead to serious chewing problems in which the jaws can only move up and down instead of in a circular fashion.  


A shear mouth occurs for many reasons, and the result is that the circular motion of chewing is compromised.  The jaws can only chew up and down, which greatly diminishes the ability to eat.  Both step mouth and shear mouth are serious and need to be treated with the help of your Veterinarian over time.  


Some Vets use tools, others rasp by hand, some do both.  It really depends!


One final note about dentistry in horses.  In many states, there are no specific laws governing who can float a horse’s teeth.  However, your licensed Veterinarian is the only one who can diagnose, float teeth, administer sedatives, prescribe medications, do extractions, and treat the whole horse.  For a safe and thorough dental treatment, your Veterinarian is the way to go.  There are lots of Veterinarians out there that specialize in dentistry, too!