Horse Dentals – it’s a thing…

Today as I stood  helping to steady each of 1000LB horse’s the vet floated both their teeth I thought “I have to write about this”.   That is the millionth time probably in my life that I have thought this thought. Can you imagine if I could just follow through on those thoughts how many blogs or books I would have written by now? Too bad most of the time I think this thought I later forget the topic I thought I wanted to write about – though I do sometimes write the idea down. Still doesn’t mean I actually write about it. But teeth floating made the grade!

I think I am lucky any time I can make time to sit down and write.  I have had many things lately that have had to come before my need to write -such as animal care and family issues. Like the fact my mother has been in one medical facility another for the last 6 weeks became a priority. But man did I have a lot of  “I need to write about this” moments in those 6 weeks!  But priority and sheer fatigue after spending days in hospital rooms and consulting with this nurse and that doc just kept me from feeling like extending my brain further to form the words that form the stories I want to write. I just couldn’t.

Today was a good day because mom is home now (yay!) and I had the vet coming early this AM and I was ready and excited to spend time with the equines and also to see how teeth floating works.  I put this procedure off for my horse Harley for years. He had been checked regularly and it was never a hard you need to get floating done now – it was more like he’s got a few areas that might need attention (a few years ago) to maybe we should do it next visit(said during last July vaccines). Yukon our guardian horse was on a more regular schedule that I must keep up on as part of my agreement with the rescue. So I scheduled for both of them to be done along with the fall vaccines.

The procedure to me was very interesting. Maybe because in my younger years I worked in a dental office! I am not sure but after feeling the before sharp edges in the horses mouth (they are sharp!) and feeling the much less sharp tooth after- and holding my horses tongue out of the way for part of the time (they have large tongues!) I was further interested and I knew I wanted to know more about floating.

So what is teeth floating? My mother jokingly asked today if they were going to take the teeth out and float them in a glass of liquid or on a cloud.  It is an odd word for sure – and after watching it be done today I wanted to learn more. What I did know was that horses develop sharp points on their teeth that need to be filed down. Upon looking it up online I found that the definition is that basic.

Here is a slideshow of some of the photos I took today:

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This slideshow requires JavaScript.

From Cowboyway.com “Floating a horse’s teeth means to file or rasp their teeth to make the chewing surfaces relatively flat or smooth.” A flat surface is required to allow the horse to properly and fully chew their food. If they can’t chew their food properly this can lead to poor digestion. Our vet Dr. Juress said that digestion in a horse really begins in the mouth. They need to be able to chew well to aid in the best digestion.

Horses chew in a circular like motion so that can get the food thourougly ground up. So with this motion, sharp edged teeth can rub the cheeks and create sores and ulcerations. This can make the horse try to chew more quickly and to drop feed – and not grind the food up correctly.   In the case of my horse Harley , I was told today that he did have some ulceration in his mouth.  I knew he needed floating done as lately he was fussing with the bit when I rode him – this and his occasional dropping feed from his mouth – let me know it was time for sure.

Of course we had to have a cold snowy day in which to have this procedure performed. I was not looking forward to just standing in the cold barn, but what I quickly learned was that it is a pretty physical procedure.  I warmed up pretty fast- shedding my jacket early on. Since my husband was going out of town I enlisted the help of my son who is a strong 19 year old. I was pretty sure that with my nerve damage issues my assistance alone would not be enough for the vet and I was right. It is quite a workout- and even more for the vet performing the floating!

The vet first lightly sedates the horses. This makes them just list a bit back and forth. My horse Harley listed more than Yukon.  My job was to steady him if he seemed to be listing too far one way. We try to back them into the stall corner where they can get more stability. My son helped by keeping the head on the stand that she uses to hold their head up. She inserts a speculum which keeps the mouth open and then takes the motorized file and begins the tasks of etching of the hooks and sharp edges. This doesn’t hurt the horse and sometimes no sedation is used. But with unpredictable animals that weigh 1000 Lbs I can see why the safer bet is to use it.

The vet or practitioner (floating can be done by a non-vet) will not make the surface smooth- that makes chewing harder actually – the surface still needs to be rough so they can properly grind feed and forage. This is definitely a procedure you want done by someone who has studied it and is skilled at it. Our vet became an expert in it because she loves doing it. Some vet practices don’t have this option and refer you out to equine dentists ( there are those) or some people use their farriers for floating.  Just make sure your practitioner comes with good references.

So what about horses in the wild?  What happens to their teeth?  I was curious and of course when you google that and also “teeth floating” their are tons of websites where one can find varying opinions on the topic. But I read that the horses in the wild will develop the areas with sharp edges and hooks – but the horses in the wild are in grassy and wooded areas 24/7. They use their jaws 24/7 to chew.  They are chewing not only grass – which likely will have silica in it which can help grind down teeth, they also eat woody plants that can further help their tooth surfaces stay relatively flat.  So in essence they are their own dentists.

Of course there are jaws of deceased wild horses that do show the hooks and sharp edges – I am sure each horse will be have their own specific biology and some will have worse teeth than others – same as in humans.  Sadly in the wild horse world bad teeth could lead to malnutrition and weakness and even death- but again that is in the wild where there is natural selection and survival of the fittest and all that. In general horses in the wild will chew more times a day – because of their access to 24/7 forage -than our companion horses. All we can is is try to navigate the right health procedures for our own horses – and even then the topic of teeth floating can become more complicated.

There are many opinions on whether a horses teeth need to be floated at all, or as often as recommended by the practitioners that perform the procedures, under sedation or wide awake, with manual files or motorized. I read an interesting article (here) that discusses whether in our modern world whether we interfere too much with a horses teeth. I think this is an opinion to consider. I think there is always a balance. In our horses situation maybe Yukon could have gone more time before he had it done. But in Harley’s case he had some ulcerations in his mouth which Dr. Juress could see once she was able to get a good look with a light inside Harley’s mouth – he really needed it done.  I think he will be more comfortable now for sure.

If we will do this yearly for Harley – I can’t say as yet. He went a good while without it. But he is older and has other health issues that can effect his weight. So I think making sure his teeth are in good working order is important. As for sedation…I am not against it..because I know that the amount given is very small- and for me safety for the human is key when working with horses. They are big animals. I know my horse Harley would not tolerate this procedure fully awake even with manual tools, no speculum and head down. Or he wouldn’t have today anyway because it took longer because he had more issues. Maybe if he had only a few areas that needed to be done he could have tolerated it without sedation. Not sure.

I do intend on reading more about the subject and looking at all the opinions. I think the best way each horse owner can approach the choices when it comes to equine teeth floating is to read as much as you can. Ask your vet, your farrier, other horse experts and then garner your own opinion.

There is so much to learn about equines and there care- I have been back into the horse world now for 15 plus years and I will never ever run out of things to learn. It is amazing and overwhelming. I am pretty sure that most horse owners want to do what we think is best for our companion horses to keep them comfortable and healthy. Today for us it was learning more about floating teeth. Next week it will be something else I am sure- and I will probably want to write about it- hopefully I will!

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