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Equine dental exam

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine provides dentistry services to equine patients in our hospital and on the farm through our Equine Field Service. If you have questions about our dental services, please contact us at 540-231-4621 for in-hospital or on-farm treatment.

What is "floating"?

Floating is the term used for filing or grinding down a horse's teeth to remove sharp points or to take the teeth down to the proper level. Because of the way horses' mouths are configured, they can develop sharp points on the outside of their upper cheek teeth and on the inside of their lower cheek teeth. These can cause irritation and ulceration on their cheeks and on their tongue, especially if the horse is ridden frequently. In addition, horses' teeth grow constantly, so if a particular tooth is not being ground down by the opposing tooth, they may develop teeth that are taller than they should be.

How do I know when my horse needs a dental exam?

Signs that your horse's teeth may need attention include the following:

  • Dropping feed
  • Abnormal behavior when being ridden (tossing head, going poorly in one direction, trying to avoid bit)
  • Loss of weight
  • Colic
  • Episodes of choke
  • Foul odor coming from the mouth or nostrils
  • Discharge coming from just one nostril

Typically, horses' teeth should be checked once every year. If you have a horse that has been diagnosed with dental problems in the past, you should have his/her teeth checked more frequently (i.e., every 6 months). The time between floating varies greatly from horse to horse. Some need their teeth floated every year (or even more frequently), but some horses may go for years without needing a float.

What are the parts of a dental exam?

  • The horse's mouth is flushed with water to remove hay and grain so that the teeth can be properly assessed.
  • If the teeth need to be floated, the horse will be sedated.
  • A speculum is placed in the mouth to hold the incisors open so that the molars and cheek teeth can be examined.
  • A motorized instrument is used to grind the teeth, smooth the edges, level the arcades, and correct any occlusal abnormalities.
  • The mouth is then rinsed again, the speculum is removed, and incisors are checked to make sure that they meet in the middle and are even.