The importance of teeth care is obvious for you and me, yet how many of you have given your horse’s teeth a second thought? I know I didn’t initially. It wasn’t until I started noticing strange things happening when my horse was eating that I began to wonder if something was wrong with his mouth.
Horse teeth continually grow and can develop sharp enamel points and hooks that make eating uncomfortable to even impossible. A good veterinarian usually includes a basic oral evaluation during routine checkups. If they notice something amiss, they will need to float your horse’s teeth.
Never heard that term before? Floating is simply the term used to describe filing down a horse’s teeth. Let’s go over the basics of horse dental care so you’ll know when your horse might need their teeth floated before it causes too many issues.
Do you need to brush your horse’s teeth
When it comes to oral care, your first thought might be to brush your horse’s teeth. After all, that’s basic maintenance for us. However, brushing your horse’s front teeth is not going to have any impact on their overall oral health.
Cleaning hay and grain pieces out for a special show or event is understandable when you want them to look their best. If your horse cooperates, use a wet toothbrush on his front teeth only. Avoid using tooth paste or any soap. Simply get the chunks out with water. If your horse doesn’t like his front teeth touched, a few slices of fresh apple will help clean his pearly whites and freshen his breath at the same time.
Brushing your horse’s front teeth doesn’t help prevent problems from occurring with their back teeth. Even if your horse lets you brush all the way back (which isn’t likely), a soft bristle tooth brush isn’t going to stop sharp ridges from developing. These spots form simply because of how horse’s teeth grow and how they chew their food.
Why do you float a horse’s teeth
Oral care is important for the overall health of your horse. The ability to eat pain free aids in healthy digestion, proper body condition and peak performance.
Horses need their teeth routinely floated because their teeth continue to grow throughout their lives and will develop uneven, sharp, enamel points and hooks that irritate their cheeks, tongue and gum lines which in turn cause eating and behavioral issues.
Routine dental exams are important for catching if a tooth is missing as well. Problems usually don’t occur with the empty space but rather with the tooth that sits opposite the missing one. Since there is no surface for that tooth to grind on anymore, it can grow extra long and cause pain once it reaches the opposite gum line.
Signs that your horse needs teeth care
By now you might be wondering if your horse needs to have his teeth floated in the near future. Before you dial up your vet for an unnecessary appointment, see if your horse exhibits any of the following behaviors. If none of these signs are obvious, it’s probably safe to wait and include teeth floating with his next yearly checkup.
These are the classic signs that your horse needs teeth care.
- Not eating – If sharp teeth are causing pain while chewing, your horse will either pick at his food or stop eating all together.
- Losing weight – Weight loss goes hand in hand with not eating. Sometimes this is obvious. Other times, you will need to stand back and really take a good look at your horse’s physique and ask yourself if what you’re seeing makes sense with the amount of work he is performing.
- Dropping hay – A horse that can’t take a normal bite of hay, chew and swallow all of it most likely has teeth issues. However, don’t confuse a picky eater with one that has a sore mouth. Check your horse’s feed area for hand sized balls of chewed up hay. These hay balls indicate that your horse is trying to chew the hay but it’s getting stuck somewhere in his mouth and he just can’t grind it down enough to safely swallow. Hence, it’s spit back out. You can also watch your horse eat for awhile and see if he has trouble chewing or takes extra long to take another bite.
- Grain dribbles – Horses loves grain and will make sure they get every last piece. Some horses get excited when given grain and spill a little in the rush to gulp it down. However, if your horse has grain continually dribbling out one side of his mouth or both sides while trying to chew it, be suspicious. It takes a good amount of chewing to crunch up hard grain and messy eating can really point out a sore tooth or mouth.
- Bad breath – Some may disagree and think it’s weird but I find normal horse breath pleasant. The combination of sweet grass, fresh hay, molasses cookies, and crisp apples creates a warm horsey smell. If your horse has bad breath, beware. Rotten teeth, gum sores and even food that’s gotten stuck will put off a sickly sour smell. There is definitely something that needs looking into if that is the case.
- Swollen muzzle or jaw – Rotten teeth or mouth sores can become infected and cause inflammation. Look for any visible swelling and tender spots on the outside of your horse’s muzzle or jaw.
- Behavioral changes – Pain in any area of your horse’s body can cause behavioral changes. Although, knowing the cause of bad behavior by itself can be really hard. If you notice your horse acting differently, see if any of the other signs on this list are also present. Don’t immediately think he needs his teeth floated if he won’t do something you ask. Horses can be obstinate just because.
- Fighting the bit – When a normally well behaved horse suddenly fights the bit or shies against bridling, suspect a sore mouth or teeth. There is nothing like a hard piece of metal clanking on a sore tooth to make your horse upset. That hurts! Their upper back teeth can also develop sharp outside edges that rub or cut their cheeks when the bit is pulled during direct reigning.
How often do you float a horse’s teeth
Since horse teeth typically grow between 2-3 mm per year, most mature horses benefit yearly from teeth floating. High performance horses benefit from touchups done every 6-9 months to keep them comfortable with wearing a bit so often.
Many people think that only older horses need their teeth floated. However, horses younger than 5 years old benefit from teeth floating every 6-9 months as well. Yearlings actually have the fastest teeth growth rate since their permanent teeth are coming in. Fast growth results in sharp teeth since they haven’t had time to grind down with normal chewing.
It is important for young horses to not associate painful teeth and mouths with all the training they are undergoing. Set a good training foundation by starting with healthy teeth.
Who floats your horse’s teeth
In many states, it is illegal for anyone other than a licensed veterinarian to practice equine dentistry. Do not attempt to file down your horse’s teeth yourself or allow someone else who “knows what they are doing” but aren’t a vet. Ever. Damaging your horse’s teeth and mouth tissue can be irreversible and detrimental to their health and quality of life.
If you want a specialist who knows everything about horse dentistry and teeth floating, seek out a veterinarian who specializes in it. There are many excellent and dedicated professionals across the country. A simple Google search should turn up options for equine dentistry in your area.
Cost to float your horse’s teeth
The cost to float your horse’s teeth usually depends on several factors. Where you are located, the veterinarian’s experience, work required, mouth abnormalities, the time it takes, number of sessions and farm call fees all go into the final price.
In general, a routine equine dental exam which includes standard floating and sedation will cost between $275 and $325. Add another $110 for a mobile equine dentist farm fee. Some practices require a minimum number of horses to treat before they will come out but they will let you split the farm call fee between owners if they aren’t all your horses.
Owing a horse comes with many responsibilities. Providing good oral care is just one of them. If you suspect your horse is experiencing teeth or mouth pain, run through the symptoms I mentioned earlier. That will help confirm your need to set up a teeth floating appointment sooner than later.
If your horse hasn’t had a full checkup in awhile, ask your veterinarian to perform an oral exam at that time to determine if teeth floating is necessary.