Frequently Asked Questions

   


       
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Equine dental care is a great investment: your horse will be more comfortable, may maximize feed efficiency, may perform better, and may live longer.

These Frequently Asked Questions along with their answers straight from A Horse's Mouth may answer your questions. Just click on the question and it takes you to the answer. If your question is not here, send an e-mail and the answer will be posted here.

Why do horses require dental maintenance?
My grandfather never had dentistry performed on his horses. This is just a new fad, isn't it?
How often should a horse's teeth be checked by an Equine Dental Technician or a Veterinarian?
My horse is involved in an upcoming competition. Should I wait until after to have its teeth done?

What is floating?
Is floating enough?
How do horses eat?
Do all horses need their teeth floated? Need maintenance?
What is whole-mouth-dentistry?
What is "performance floating?"
What are bit seats?
What are wolf teeth?
What are blind wolf teeth?
What are molars? Incisors?
What are hooks and ramps?
What is a wave mouth?
Will my horse require sedation for any procedure?
Can you provide sedation for my horse?
My horse is like a member of the family.
Will this procedure be traumatic for him/her?

Can a horse be "aged" by its teeth?

     


Cherokee's Boy
Citidancer - Cherokee Wonder
, by Cherokee Colony

  • Winner of 19 races, 14 stakes, $1,177,946
  • Maryland's Horse of the Year, 2005
  • Champion 2-year old in 2002

Why do horses require dental maintenance?

  • Horses teeth are hypsodontic in nature, which means that they have a limited growth period, but prolonged eruption throughout the life of the animal.
  • The majority of a horse's teeth are buried within the maxilla or mandible, and lengthen through "eruption" to compensate for wear. However, with domestication - and the unnatural eating patterns and diet that accompany it - the horse's teeth often grow faster than they wear.
  • Periodic maintenance will reduce teeth that have become so long that they impede rather than aid the horse in reducing its feed to digestible sizes.
  • Even the horse which spends a lot of time "on pasture" requires maintenance.
  • Horses do not chew "up and down." Rather, while chewing, their jaw travels in an elliptical motion, moving both to the left and right, as well as forward and backwards, effectively grinding their food. As their molar arcades are naturally angled, this grinding, circular motion "hones" the molars, creating very sharp edges on both the buccal (outer) side of the upper molars, and the lingual (tongue) side of the bottom molars.
  • These very sharp points can cause severe oral lacerations, eventually causing odd eating behaviors, a reluctance to eat, and performance problems.
  • Horses are not immune to many of the dental problems people experience: decay, impactions, gingivitis. Regular dental maintenance to spot and resolve these problems will result in a much happier, healthier, and more productive animal.

My grandfather never had dentistry performed on his horses. This is just a new fad, isn't it?

  • There is a misconception that equine dentistry has developed over the last 10 to 20 years. Not true at all! Evidence exists that suggests equine dentistry has been performed for centuries. In the cavalry, dentistry was considered to be just as important as farrier work. As horses faded away as our primary source of transportation, so, to a great degree, did this facet of equine health.
  • Race horses have been an exception; trainers know the importance of good dental health on performance, and it would be a rare instance for a trainer to risk the loss of a purse to neglected teeth!

How often should a horse's teeth be checked by an Equine Dental Technician or a Veterinarian?

  • A foal should be checked shortly after birth, as early intervention can improve congenital flaws such as brachygnathism (parrot mouth), prognathism (monkey or sow mouth), or wry nose.
  • The individual should then be checked as a yearling and then each 6-months until the age of 5-years to monitor the shedding and re-growth of 24-deciduous (baby) teeth.
  • Generally, after the age of five, a once-a-year checkup will suffice.
  • NOTE: The standard guideline for equines in Maryland is to have an annual dental checkup and necessary treatment to ensure proper and adequate food digestion.

My horse is involved in an upcoming competition. Should I wait until after to have its teeth done?

  • Absolutely not! Do it now- your horse may benefit immensely from the procedures and reflect its newfound comfort in a dramatic performance improvement.
  • However, bear in mind: if we need to utilize the services of a veterinarian for sedation, such drugs may "test" positive in a urinalysis, as well as any topical analgesics I might use.
  • If your horse is performing in an upcoming event, let me know before any procedures are started.

What is floating?

Floating is defined differently by different people, but generally means the removal of sharp edges that develop on the molar arcades as a result of the honing action of chewing.

Is floating enough?

  • Absolutely not!
  • While floating alone is beneficial to a horse, it is only a small percentage of the work required to restore your horse's mouth to full chewing efficiency and comfort.
  • Healthy and comfortable dentition is achieved through equilibration, or whole-mouth-dentistry.

How do horses eat?

  • Horses use their very dexterous lips to choose their feed and draw it into their incisors (also known as nippers).
  • With their incisors, they tear the grass from the ground, and with their tongue, move the food back to the molars.
  • The molars act as a millstone, grinding the grass, hay, or grain into digestible sizes easy to swallow.

Do all horses need their teeth floated? Need maintenance?

  • Yes. Regardless of the horse's diet and/or time in the pasture, wear will occur on the teeth causing eventual loss of chewing efficiency, and causing the horse to be susceptible to TMJ (temporomandibular joint) syndrome, weight loss, and other health risks.
  • Just like having your farrier and veterinarian visit, dental checkups by an equine dental technician must be an integral part of the horse's wellness plan.

What is whole-mouth-dentistry?

  • Whole-mouth-dentistry, or equilibration, considers and maintains the working relationships of all the teeth, primarily through crown-height reduction.
  • Its goal is to achieve a three-point-balance between the incisors, the molars, and the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).

What is "performance floating?"

  • Performance floating is the application of whole-mouth-dentistry with a special emphasis on the foremost molars in the creation of bit-seats,and are applicable to any riding horses that utilize a bit.

What are bit-seats?

  • The creation of bit-seats is a technique in which the first major premolars - the teeth against which the bit rides - are carefully rounded and shaped, thereby lifting the bit up and off of the sensitive bars, reducing tongue pressure and making certain that sensitive cheek tissue is not pinched between the bit and tooth.
  • Bit-seats provide for much greater comfort for the horse, and often result in great improvements in performance.
  • The installation of bit-seats reduces a great number of performance vices: headshaking, evading the bit, lugging, etc.
  • Bit-seats are a "must" for competition horses, and for horses in which a high degree of performance is expected.
  • Performance improvement is often instant and dramatic.

What are wolf teeth?

  • Wolf teeth are vestigial premolars, remnants of the hyracotherium stage in a horse's development when seven molars were present.
  • Wolf teeth sit just forward of the first major premolar - where the bit lies - and their lack of sufficient rooting often creates pain upon application of the bit.
  • The likely resultant performance problems - head throwing, lugging, getting "behind" or "over" the bit - makes a strong case for their removal prior to training or major events.
  • Wolf-tooth extraction is an invasive procedure. For the well-being of your horse - and as required by law - all extractions must be supervised by a veterinarian.

What are blind wolf teeth?

  • These are wolf teeth that have not erupted through the gum, but can cause extreme discomfort from the bit while the horse is ridden.
  • An equine dental technician or a veterinarian can find these by feeling the gums.
  • Blind wolf teeth are often removed.

What are molars? Incisors?

  • Premolars and molars are the cheek teeth used to grind and chew food.
  • Incisors are the front teeth. Also known as nippers, they are used to tear grass out of the ground.

What are hooks and ramps?

  • Hooks and ramps are a problem of the molar arcades, and develop when there is a malocculsion - a failure to meet properly - of a tooth and its opposing tooth on the opposite arcade. If, as a result of the malocclusion, a tooth only partially receives wear, the unworn part will continue to lengthen through the process of eruption. The unworn aspect of the tooth will develop a hook or ramp.
  • A hook is a particularly steep overgrowth; a ramp is a more gradual overgrowth.

What is a wave mouth?

Cheek teeth that are wavy rather than flat.

Will my horse require sedation for any procedure?

Very often a horse's dentition can be restored to complete efficiency without any sedation. If a horse is particularly fractious (unruly) - rearing, striking, or so fractious that a satisfactory job cannot be performed - sedation may be required. I do require sedating for the removal of any teeth, including wolf teeth.

Can you provide sedation for my horse?

  • As I am not a veterinarian, I cannot provide sedation for your horses.
  • While I am trained in the administration of such drugs, I am not educated in or equipped to deal with an adverse reaction to such medicines, such as an allergic reaction.
  • If sedation is required to perform dentistry on your horse successfully, we will need to schedule a time in which a veterinarian can intercede to perform sedation requirements.
  • The owner, of course, can sedate the animal provided he/she is using drugs that have been supplied by their veterinarian for use on that particular horse.

My horse is like a member of the family. Will this procedure be traumatic for him/her?

  • Horses respond to dentistry procedures differently. Some dislike it, some are indifferent, and others actually enjoy the procedure!
  • Regardless, all horses are treated as gently as possible, utilizing techniques of good horsemanship and employing methods of gentle desensitization.
  • Your horse will not be abused in any way!

Can a horse be "aged" by its teeth?

  • To a degree. Age can be determined with reasonable accuracy in a younger horse, because the growth of dentition occurs in quite predictable patterns.
  • However, once a horse has developed its permanent teeth, age determination is based on the degree of tooth wear and is subject to many factors that include: breed, nature and quality food, environmental conditions, heredity, injury and disease.