Teeth floating — how to save money!
Horse teeth are not designed like ours. Horse’s molar teeth are grind down, slowly but surely, by chewing. They start out with long (4-5″) molars, most of which are under the gumline. The ends of the molar tooth rests within the jawbone or sinus. As the tops of the teeth are filed down by chewing, the rest of the tooth eases into the mouth. When horses are old and an occasional tooth falls out, it may only be an inch long. That’s four inches of tooth filed away over a lifetime!
Often, the horse’s grinding is not perfect (for reasons below). When this happens, sharp edges result. These edges (called “points”) can cut the horse’s cheeks or tongue. Sharp points hurt and thereby stop the horse from chewing his food completely. This decreases food digestion—which increases your food bill. It also increases your horse’s risk of impaction colic.
Teeth floating is removing the sharp points with a dental file.
How teeth floating affects performance
You may not realize is how important teeth floating is for horse performance. As an example, try this fun exercise:
Sit up straight and relax your jaw. Drop your head down toward your chest. Notice how your lower jawbone slides forward. Try this a few times. Pay attention to your lower jawbone moving forward and backward as you move your head down and up.
Now, with your head up, clench your jaw shut and try this again. Most people can feel more difficulty getting their head down to the same point. Many feel a tightness down the back of their neck and sometimes even their back.
Doing this jaw-clenching exercise shows how horses feel when their teeth need floating. Why? Because when a horse’s teeth need floating, the rough edges and sharp points stop the lower jawbone from sliding forward. This can cause many performance difficulties such as:
- unable to flex poll
- stiff neck
- stiff body
- collection difficulties
- heavy on the reins
- behind the bit
- back sore
Dental problems can cause your horse pain, decreased feed efficiency, performance problems, and potential colic. Therefore, having your horse’s teeth evaluated is important. Have your horse examined once per year, at least at first. Once the equine dentist is familiar with your horse, you may need an exam less often.
Saving money on equine dentistry
How do you save money on teeth floating? By decreasing how often and how much of his teeth your horse needs floated.
And how do you do that? By being sure that your horse’s jaw movement (i.e. chewing) is as perfect as possible. The chewing action is a figure-eight pattern. Symmetrical movement to the right and left with full range-of-motion is the natural chewing pattern.
Make sure your horse is chewing right
Take a look at the horse in the picture. Do you see how far over his lower jaw is? That’s about as far as it can go. The jaw doesn’t move over quite that far to chew.
Now watch your horse eat. Your horse’s jaw should move to the right and left as she chews. Watch directly from the front and be sure that the jaw moves the same distance to both sides. If your horse does not chew evenly on both sides, it’s time for the dentist!
Don’t wait for the “dropping food out of the mouth” sign. That only happens when the dental problems are advanced.
When your horse can chew correctly, he will need less frequent and less extensive teeth floating.
Make sure your horse’s jaw is aligned
Your horse’s jaw needs to be aligned to even have a chance of proper chewing. To show this, try another fun exercise:
Again sitting up straight and relaxing your jaw, tip your head to one side. Notice that your lower jawbone slides over to that side. Now try chewing like that!
When the poll is misaligned, your horse’s head is effectively tipped sideways. The body prioritizes the eyes being level. That’s why your horse doesn’t walk around with his head crooked. But his head and jaw are still off.
See the Body Checkup videos for the Atlas and TMJ to check your own horse for jaw alignment.