Last Updated on August 21, 2023 by Allison Price

When it comes to horse teeth work, I am often struck by the meaning of “need”.

It means “To have something that is very important or essential.”

It seems, therefore, that horses will need their teeth ground down at one point in their lives. This has not always been the case. This would be known as “teeth floating” in common parlance. The “floating” part of the term means “to make level and seamless,” just like workers who lay cement.

IMPORTANT AIDE:Tooth floating is an apt term that has been around for quite some time. Some people may call it “occlusal equilibrium,” which to me is a way to make something seemingly simple seem important and exotic. It’s almost like calling someone who cleans floors a “sanitation engine.” Additionally, there aren’t standard measurements that can be used to determine when this mythical state has been reached. If someone claims that they have “equilibrated” your horse’s mouth, it is likely so in their mind. However, this may not be true in the minds of the next equilibrator who might have other ideas. As always, the horse will remain silent, even when presented with complete nonsense.

QUESTION 1: “Why is someone thinking that my horse should have his teeth floated?”

Let’s talk briefly about why this is. It’s not as if people need to drive to the dentist only a few times per year to have their teeth cleaned. Why horses?

Horse teeth are distinct from human teeth. This may seem obvious but it is important to note. Both horses and humans get their baby teeth. Then, they get permanent teeth. Except for flossing and brushing, no one really cares about their teeth unless they are hurt (e.g., by a punch to the mouth) or if they become diseased (e.g., because they haven’t flossed in a while).Eruption, volcano-wise

Horse teeth are very different. Horse teeth are different. They have baby teeth and then permanent teeth. However, horse teeth also have long roots that, over time, “erupt”. This is the same term used to describe volcanoes.

Erupt refers to horse teeth that are pushing upwards like lava but without the heat or speed. The teeth are chewing on pasture, stall doors, fencing, and hay as they erupt. These are not desirable. All of this chewing causes the teeth to wear and grind against each other.

Over time, however, this grinding happens unevenly in many horses.©Virgonira

A OTHER IMPORTANT AIDE: Horse teeth are believed to erupt at an average rate of two-six centimeters per year. This is not a lot, so the teeth should not be changing too fast. When you speak to people who tell you that your horse’s teeth should be flipped twice a year, think .

The teeth do not sit flat on one another. The upper teeth hang over the cheek sides) of the lower ones, and the lower teeth aren’t in contact with their tongue sides. **

They chew unevenly and can develop sharp edges and points as a result. Uneven wear can lead to “hooks” in individual teeth. The rows of six upper and six lower grinding teeth at the back of the mouth may also cause uneven wear, creating a “wave” mouth. And all of these things are said to need “correction” when recognized by an enterprising entrepreneur/examiner.The front tooth of this horse has a large hook on it

QUESTION 2: “So what?” That is, what difference does it make to have points, hooks, and waves?

According to current thinking, horses require all of these things:

  1. To make sure they eat.
  2. To aid them in their performance, those sharp points are alleged cause of discomfort when the bridle presses the cheeks onto your teeth.
  3. To prevent any future problems with your gums and teeth.
  4. To maintain his posture. ***

Eating – It seems possible that horses might find it difficult to eat due to mouth problems. However, horses don’t allow things like uncomfortably shaped teeth to stop them eating. In the absence of any disease or other pathology, horses don’t have to worry about their teeth, especially when it comes down to eating.This prehistoric horse skull, from the LaBrea Tar Pits, has lots of points on its teeth. It died because it got caught in the tar, not because of its teeth.

A OTHER ASIDE: I believe two things. First, I don’t believe that people are any smarter than they were in the past. They may know more, but they’re not smarter. People who lived long ago were smarter than we are today. We keep talking about Plato, Socrates and other jolly people. I believe they were more closely connected to their horses than we are today. The horse was a valuable commodity in the past. People lived with them and watched them closely. It may surprise you to find out that horseman were not concerned about their mouths being smooth and level in the past. Andrew Snape, the “farrier” to King Charles II discussed the importance of horse teeth being sharp in a book I republished. As everyone knew, smooth millstones can’t grind grain well so you had to ensure that your horse’s teeth were sharpened and pitted so that it could grind its grain. *

However, scientific research is often frustratingly inept at showing any benefits to horses who have their teeth flubbed. Numerous studies (including 2, 3, 4, and 5) have not shown that horses who get their teeth floppy digest better or gain weight. It is easy to see how vital it can be.

Performance – Again, it is understandable that horses with sharp teeth might not like having their teeth press into their cheeks using a bridle. However, in one study , no difference was found between dressage horses with and without their teeth being floated.

It’s not uncommon for me to see sharp teeth in horses that have been imported from overseas. This hasn’t stopped them from jumping high and being sold for hundreds upon thousands of dollars. You’d expect that sharp teeth would cause bleeding if they were cutting into the side of horses’ mouths. This is not the norm.

Horses don’t always need their teeth floated. However, they do not need them every six months.©Jennifer Lawrence

Avoiding future problems– This is a major selling point for dental interventions. It’s the old saying, “An ounce is worth a pound cure.” While the old adage may be true, it is difficult to know if it applies to floating teeth.

I mean, I have seen many older horses whose teeth were regularly flung and then ended up with problems in their mouths. I have also seen many horses with mouth problems after their teeth were aggressively ground. It’s not easy to see how grinding away a tooth can increase its longevity, as some people may claim.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable for horses to need some help from time to time. It’s okay to have someone look into your horse’s mouth from time to time, but not to grind them away everytime.

FINAL ASIDE (I promise): Horses do develop oral pathology. They can develop broken and diseased teeth. These need to be treated as soon as they happen. We are not referring to real oral pathology which requires veterinary attention, but routine floating in this article.Excessively worn incisor teeth on a cribber. ©Jacqueline Nix

LAST TIME QUESTION (FINALLY).: “So, does your horse need to have his teeth floated?”

The best part is that there are no standards for determining whether a horse needs to have its teeth floated. Everybody is free to do what they like.

It all depends on the person you hire to care for your horse’s teeth. He may need his teeth floated less or more often depending on whom you use. (For the record, I vote for less). One person’s idea of perfection may not be the best for another, especially if they need your business or have something to do in the afternoon.

I mean, it’s not like you’re likely to stick your fingers inside your horse’s mouth (it’s a good way to get bitten if you’re not used to doing it); you’re likely to trust the person that you’ve asked to do the job, especially if he or she is an “certified,” or represents themselves as an “equine dentist,” ready to help you because veterinarians are untrained/unwilling/or unable to do the job. My experience is that horse owners are more likely to agree to have their horse’s teeth floated if they hear that someone has told them. ***** Caveat emptor.©Anke Van Wyk

I’m not going to start a debate about who should be working on your horse’s teeth. Routine dental care for horses would be extremely difficult. You wouldn’t find anyone who spent more than a few weeks at a “school” (or who may not even have been trained at all) claiming to be experts. It’s hard to perform colic surgery. That’s why you won’t see lay colic surgeons in the barn aisles.

Trust someone who can perform other tasks than grinding teeth. If all one has is a tool, it’s easy to make everything look like a nail.

You should still ask any to explain the problem. Perhaps you should question why this is happening. Ask about the significance of your horse’s appearance and health. You should ask about qualifications, such as a veterinary degree. Also, inquire about liability insurance in the event your horse is hurt during the process. Although it is rare, injuries do happen. Ask for data to support what you are being told.

It is a good idea to have your horse’s mouth checked periodically in order to check for signs of dental disease. It is not a badidea to floss your horse’s teeth every once in a while. Not necessary? But what about the need?©Tania Cataldo/Flickr CC by 2.0

* “Common knowledge” can be dangerous, especially when it comes down to medical practices. Argumentum ad populum, which is Latin for “appeal by the people”, is a fallacy that asserts something is common knowledge. It doesn’t matter if everyone believes that something is true. People spreading the same message can easily spread misinformation.

** Some may argue that the “occlusal angle”, or the angle between the teeth, is crucial for horses. It is not, according to multiple studies. To see the studies, click on the number: 1, 2, 3.

em >*** This is not a fabrication. This is just an assertion. Some people believe that horses will suffer from poor posture if their teeth don’t get properly floated. Ask for supporting data if someone says this to you. To keep from being laughed at, a handkerchief should be used to cover your mouth.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!