Unlike humans that chew their food, horses grind their food; a process called mastication. Because of this grinding motion which is from side to side, horses teeth will become sharp on the outside next to their cheek, and on the inside bottom next to their tongue. As you can guess, if you do not have a horse dentist come in and float their teeth, meaning the dentist will have long handled tools called floats, go into their mouths and take off the sharp edges of both the top and bottom of their teeth, your horse will encounter problems grinding and digesting their food in the proper manner. There are a lot of misconceptions about horses’ teeth and how often they need to be floated, and at what age you should start with dentistry.
Just as in most areas concerning horses, opinions vary greatly. I can only give you the formula that has worked for me and my four legged friends. Because of having two year olds in training, and having food in front of them constantly, (which means a lot of food consumption), I started using a dentist for these two year olds in the latter months of the second year. This is because as three year olds, they have what they call caps on their back molars which are basically baby teeth that are being undermined by the growing in of their permanent teeth. These caps can be left to fall out on their own but they usually are very bothersome to the horses, sometimes causing them to go off of their feed because it is hard for them to masticate. Signs of this will be a constant tilting of their head and moving their tongue around in an unusual manner. Caps are not the only issue. Wolf teeth can also be painful for the horse when you put the bridle on and the bit in their mouth. As the rider pulls back on the reins causing the bit to move in the horses’ mouth up against the wolf tooth, there can be not only great pain but a very disagreeable head throwing horse to follow. Wolf teeth are rogue teeth that are easily removed. It is usually necessary to have them removed as well.
Horses’ teeth grow constantly from what is called the alveolus. This means that the teeth have only a certain amount of length to them. This is why elderly horses eventually must be fed very soft mixtures of feed because they no longer have teeth that are growing; meaning their teeth are worn out and may eventually lose some of the teeth they have left. So it is very important that you have a dentist that knows what he or she is doing. You do not want their teeth taken down too much as this will affect their ability to masticate and shorten the life of their teeth for the future. Personally, as a general rule, I like horses that are not in training and are full mouthed, (meaning having a full set of teeth grown in), usually at the age of five years, done every six months. I had racing horses checked about every three months, just for taking off the edges, checking for caps, and helping to insure proper mastication and digestion. If your horse is not grinding their food properly, the grains will not be absorbed as they should, will flow through the system losing precious nutrients, and may cause loss of weight even though they are being fed the proper amount of food for their age, size, breed and amount of work. Some horses may go as long as a year between floatings. This is probably the usual amount of time that the majority of people allow their horses to go in between dental visits. Having your horses teeth floated is just as important as worming and blacksmith work. If you are riding your horse and he or she is constantly flipping their head, giving you a hard time when you ask the horse to turn, there probably is an issue involving their teeth. The sharp edges created by mastication can be like razor blades cutting either into your horses tongue or onto the cheeks of their mouth. Horse dentists are not too terribly expensive and in the long run will save you from going through hardships with your horse. Floating the teeth of a horse that has severe edges and is underweight can make the difference of hundreds of pounds of flesh on their body and will help them to again be a happy horse. Happy horse…happy owner.