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What Are Horse Teeth Floaters?

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Teeth floater is an uncommon job title, but if your favorite equine's teeth need the help, you'll quickly appreciate a good horse teeth floater's skill. Your horse's teeth grow throughout his life, replacing what is worn away by abrasive grasses and the soil and grit that accompanies them into the horse's mouth. Growth and differences in tooth wear cause uneven surfaces that the teeth floater fixes, helping to prevent costly dental and medical problems.

Teeth Floating

Your vet or qualified equine dental practitioner -- a teeth floater -- uses equine dental tools similar to human dental tools to even out imperfections in your horse’s teeth, align his bite, and check for broken teeth and other dental problems. How often your horse needs a float varies; have your vet check his teeth every six months. Typically you won’t need to call in a teeth floater more than once or twice a year if your horse doesn’t have unusual dental issues or injuries to the head and mouth.

Teeth Floater Qualifications

Some states will allow only veterinarians to float teeth, while others allow horse teeth floaters to work under a vet’s guidance. Some states have no regulations, leaving it to the horse's owner to judge a teeth floater’s expertise and proficiency. Non-veterinarians can take formal classes from state dentistry schools or through the International Association of Equine Dentistry.

Veterinarian Floaters

Equine veterinarians study teeth floating in veterinary school, and get hands-on practice there. For some, that’s the extent of their knowledge and experience, and it's generally adequate for routine floats. Some veterinarians seek more education and experience, such as pursuing the Equine Fellowship program with the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry. The advantage to having your vet float your horse’s teeth comes if the horse needs medical care. Broken or fragmented teeth can cause abscesses and other secondary illnesses. Your horse also needs to be sedated for his float, which carries medical risks.

Teeth Care and Health

Preventative dental care should start before your horse is a year old, even if you aren’t riding him yet, and it should continue through old age. Some, but not all, young horses have what are known as wolf teeth that usually come through the upper jaw, just in front of, but occasionally alongside, the cheek teeth. These vestigial teeth serve no function, and sometimes they cause pain when you put a bit in your horse’s mouth. Usually they cause no problem, but occasionally they must be removed.

Sharp points and hooks can cause sores inside the mouth that can become infected. Overall, uneven tooth surfaces affect your horse’s ability to chew his hay and grain, increasing his chances of weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, impaired immunity and colic.

Tools Floaters Use

Horse teeth floaters perform two types of floats: manual, and power. A dremel-type power tool is used for a power float, while the floater uses more traditional files and rasps to float tooth surfaces manually. Most floaters use a combination of the two methods. Either way, the horse's mouth is held open using a speculum, a mouthpiece inserted into the horse's mouth and attached to a halter. The sides of the mouthpiece adjust and lock in place so the floater can reach back into the horse's mouth to work.

Some of the floater's tools closely resemble those used by human dentists. Picks and probes reveal sensitivities and are used to clean debris and tarter. Blades, extractors and pliers cut and remove rotten or unnecessary teeth. A file, rasp or dremel tool smooths tooth surfaces.