Floating a horse's teeth is not a project for the do-it-yourselfer. It requires the services of a veterinarian or a licensed equine dentist. If a horse needs sedation -- and many do -- then a veterinarian is necessary.
Floating is a term for routine equine dental maintenance. An equine dentist can perform basic floating, but any dental surgery, such as the removal of wolf teeth, requires a veterinarian. Horses under the age of 5 and those over the age of 20 have the most changes going on in their mouths, so at least semi-annual floating is recommended. For other equines, an annual examination and floating generally suffices. If a horse has serious dental issues, it may take several sessions over the course of a year or more to correct them.
The Horse's Mouth
Horse's teeth grow throughout their lifetime, or more accurately, the teeth continue erupting through the gums as they wear down, until there's no more tooth left to erupt in old age. As they eat, the grinding motion made by the teeth can cause uneven wear, resulting in the development of points or hooks. These can be quite sharp, resulting in mouth ulcers and causing pain to the animal with every mouthful of food or when being ridden or driven. Floating the teeth files down these points and hooks, so his uneven teeth no longer cause pain.
Signs that a horse is in need of having his teeth floated -- even if he normally has the procedure done annually -- include dropping food, head shaking, bad breath, weight loss, nasal discharge, bit issues, sinusitis and jaw tenderness.
Floating With A Rasp
Using a rasp to remove the sharp points on teeth is the time-honored floating method. While filing down teeth appears painful to the onlooker, it doesn't hurt the horse. The nerves in equine teeth are much more deeply below the surface than in humans, so it's very rare that an equine dentist "hits a nerve" and causes his patient pain.
Floating With Power Tools
The use of power tools in equine dentistry is relatively recent. Only veterinarians can use these tools in a horse's mouth. In the hands of a skilled practitioner, these devices get the job done faster and more efficiently. Done incorrectly, a power tool can quickly destroy a horse's dentition. A horse must be sedated if a power tool is used. His mouth is held open during the procedure by the insertion of a full-mouth speculum.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.