Many people who deal with equines in their lives have experienced floating teeth at some point or another. The term “floating teeth” sounds a bit strange to people who are not familiar with equine dentistry, and although it conjures up a bizarre image of teeth floating around in mid air, it is actually an important part of dental care for horses. When a horse's teeth are floated, a veterinarian or equine dentist uses a specialized dental rasp, also called a float, to file down the teeth so that they are even. Floating teeth is necessary for most domestic horses at least every couple of years, and horse owners should give their animals regular checkups to ensure that their teeth are healthy, even, and not painful.
Unlike human teeth, horse teeth grow throughout their lives. This is because in the wild, horses eat a wide variety of fodder, some of which contains abrasive substances like silicates which wear down the teeth. When a horse eats normally, grinding food between the back teeth, the abrasives wear the teeth down, keeping them even and smooth. However, when a horse eats a softer diet, like one containing a lot of alfalfa and grains, the teeth do not wear evenly, and they can form sharp, painful points. Floating teeth is necessary at this point to eliminate the sharp edges.
A horse with teeth in need of floating tends to be very mouth shy, because the sharp teeth are cutting into the horse's cheeks and causing pain. The horse may also have difficulty eating, start dropping food from its mouth, not be able to chew properly, begin losing weight, salivate a lot, and pass unchewed food through its digestive system. In extreme cases, the horse's mouth may start bleeding, indicating the need for an immediate dental appointment. Floating teeth will restore the horse's normal attitude, as well as improving its health and mental well being.
A specialized halter is used for floating teeth to pull the horse's head up and secure it. Many horses are also lightly sedated for the procedure. If the veterinarian is using a traditional rasp for floating teeth, he or she will file gently away at the teeth to smooth them down and remove rough patches. Some veterinarians prefer to use power tools for floating teeth, which must be used cautiously so that too much is not filed away. It is also important that the teeth do not become excessively smooth, as this will also cause problems with eating and digestion.