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"Equine Dental Care for Performance Horses" ~ ARTICLE BY AMY MCLEAN

Equine Dental Care for Performance Horses

Have you had your horse’s teeth floated lately? Most veterinarians will recommend having your horse’s teeth floated at least once a year.  Some horses may require their teeth be floated more often especially if your horse works for a living.  Floating refers to filing the sharp points off the molars and some times the incisor teeth.  The incisors are the teeth located in the front often used to tell the age of the horse and the molars are found in the back along the top and bottom jaw.  When a horse chews grass or hay, the jaws (mandibles) move side to side and during this movement sharp points can develop along the arcade of teeth in both the incisors and molars.  Generally, most horses’ top jaw will tend to be slightly longer than the under jaw but a severe difference may create additional problems especially in regards to the horse chewing or masticating it’s food and even issues with where the bit may sit when riding a horse with such genetic deformities as being parrot or monkey mouth.1  Monkey mouth is where the under jaw is longer than the top.  The every day wear and tear of how the mandibles move may create discomfort in your horse that could lead to weight loss or poor performance when riding them.

Having your horse’s teeth floated can help improve the mobility of the jaw which in return may help your horse better accept the bit as well as masticate its food.  A study conducted in Europe found that mobility of the horse’s mandible (jaw) improved after the teeth were floated. 1 They also found that larger draft and warmblood breeds had increased flexion at the poll after having their teeth floated.1 In general your veterinarian or equine dentist should be able to develop what’s called a bit seat, by rounding off the first four cheek teeth to prevent interferences with the bit but this “bit seat” maybe specialized according to your horse’s job.2

Floating can be accomplished using hand held tools or electric tools.1,2  Dentists that use electric tools appreciate the fact they can get a more even surface and possibly decrease the amount of stress on the horse because the tools are faster than the typical hand held devices.  However, it’s important that when power tools are being used that they are cooled often to prevent over heating and damage to the horse’s mouth.2  A horse that is only being kept for maintenance or as a companion animal will not have the need for a “bit seat” but should still have their teeth done on a regular basis at least once a year.  If you have a performance horse it’s not a bad idea to have your horse’s teeth checked more often such as every 3-4 months especially if you are showing a young horse.  Some trainers or professional may also require that a young horse have his teeth checked prior to beginning training to eliminate any dental issues. In conclusion, have your horse’s teeth floated at least once a year if your horse is not working for a living and if your horse is a performance horse (show, rodeo, endurance, ranch horse, etc.) consider a professional checking their teeth more often.  Also, consider looking at how the bit sits in your horse’s mouth and if your tack (example: headstall) is properly fitted to your horse.


By Amy K. McLean, PhD

Animal Science, University of Wyoming



1Carmalt, J.L. H.G. Townsend, and A.L. Allen.  2003.  Effect of dental floating on the rostrocaudal mobility of the mandible of horses.  Jrnl Am. Vet. Med. Assoc.  223: 5, 666-9.

2 Scoggins, R.D.  2001.  Bits, Bitting, and Dentistry.  Proceedings of AAEP (47). 138-41.






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