Floating Teeth: Equine Dental Care

Floating Teeth: Equine Dental Care

Tuesdays with Tony

I, being the hard working feline that I am, am often hand fed by my humans and do not often have to think about the use of my teeth. Your horse, however, requires roughage (hay, grass, other gross green things) in their diet which they generally need to use their teeth for. Today we are going to talk about equine dentistry and the effects it has on your horse’s well-being. 

If you’re a reader of this blog, I know you care deeply for your equine friends. You have your veterinarian out on a regular basis, vaccinate for the things they recommend, and only deworm based on fecal egg counts as directed by your veterinarian. So, who’s floating your horse’s teeth?

If it’s not also your veterinarian, keep reading. Oh–and even if it is–you should still read the rest of my blog.

What Do We Do to Horse Teeth During a “Dental”

Horse teeth are designed to grow continuously throughout the horse’s life. As the horse chews, they wear down their teeth. When the mouth is balanced, the teeth wear down in a relatively even way. Once imbalances start though, they only get worse as the grinding action occurs every day. Horses can develop imbalances–things like malocclusions, sharp enamel points, and hooks–for a variety of reasons, and yes they do develop these things “in the wild” too. Some imbalances are relatively minor and don’t prevent the horse from eating, but some cause severe oral pain and make your herbivorous friend taste blood in their mouth. 

So, when my docs go in there with their special tools, what they are doing is correcting those imbalances. My docs use tools called “power floats” which make the dentals quicker and put less strain on their overworked backs, but you may see your veterinarian use tools called “hand floats” which basically just look like metal rasps. And that is where the term “floating a horse’s teeth” comes from–just the name of the tool used! The floats are designed to be used in specific ways to safely grind down the high or sharp points on various surfaces of the teeth in order to bring things closer to being balanced. It is very possible to “over float” however, which is why a dental speculum and bright light are absolutely vital to the dental–and you can’t use those effectively without the magic word: sedation!

Sedation can only be used and administered by or under direct supervision of a veterinarian. There are lay people who claim to float horse teeth out there who use sedation but this cat knows they went under the table to get it–and that spot is reserved for me. So, sedation is used by my docs to make the horses a bit more calm and amenable to the whole process. It is a very light sedation that keeps them standing and aware, but also allows the doctor and technician to be safe while the speculum goes into the mouth and holds it open for the dental exam. 

The dental exam is one of the most vital parts of the entire procedure and is definitely not being performed by lay people claiming to be able to float teeth. The dental exam involves both visual and tactile assessment of every tooth in the horse’s mouth. The docs look for missing teeth, sharp points, oral ulcerations, tumors, extra teeth, you name it they want to find and document it. Just like doing a physical exam for vaccines helps your veterinarian know what is normal for your horse so they can more easily spot abnormal, doing dental exams every year allows them to track progression of any imbalances or abnormalities your particular horse has.

How Often Should Dentals Happen?

For most horses, my docs recommend a dental exam and float once per year. Exams should start within the first few years of life and often there are already mild sharp points that my docs take down quickly with their power float. Starting dentals early helps find any issues your horse was born with so they can be managed over time. It also helps young horses get used to the sedation of the speculum and the noise of the float in their mouth, which will make them better patients for the next visit.

Regular dental work by a veterinarian can help prevent pain and discomfort, improve chewing ability so they get more out of each piece of food, and can even improve behavior and comfort while working. Sometimes my docs will recommend twice yearly dental work for young horses with pre-set imbalances so we can set them up for success in later life, and very often my docs will recommend twice yearly dental care for older horses who teeth are starting to “expire.” 

Don’t worry, I’m not going to go Tim Burton on you, by expire I just mean teeth that are so worn down they are not very effective at grinding anymore. If a horse lives long enough, this will happen, and it takes a skilled hand to manage the teeth around that one, especially the one directly across the mouth from it. Remember how I said at the beginning that the teeth are designed to grow for the entire life? Well, if one expires, the one opposite on it on the upper or lower jaw will often keep growing, and growing, and growing…

For horses that don’t get regular veterinary dental care, this leads to the sensation of having a giant pillar in their mouth that they can’t quite chew around, and will often make them less likely to eat. If my docs meet an older horse who isn’t keeping weight on or isn’t eating well, one of their first steps will be a dental exam and likely floating the teeth!

Take Home Points

What this cat wants you to know is this: all of your horses should have dental care performed with sedation by their veterinarian at least once per year. 

It doesn’t matter what a lay person tells you about how “skilled” or “specialized” they are in equine dentistry, they are not qualified to appropriately manage your horse’s teeth.

A horse’s teeth are vital to their digestion of nutrients. Most horses eat hay or grass as the majority of their diet. This is known as roughage because the plant fibers need to be broken down by the grinding action of the teeth. This is why older horses that have expired teeth should switch to a complete or “senior” feed. Senior feeds have the roughage component in them already ground down, essentially doing the work of the teeth prior to entering the horse’s mouth! 

Well, I hope that gives you some perspective on equine dentistry. If you have any follow up questions my docs are always happy to answer, just give the clinic a call or talk to them at your horse’s next wellness appointment!

Until next week,


P.S. Be a good human and scroll down to the purple box and subscribe to my blog. Don’t rely on Facebook to let you know when a new one is out. My subscribers get it right in their email inbox, and a day earlier than everyone else! Go ahead, just scroll down a little further. Good human. You can do it!

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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More Adventures of the Horse Doctor's Husband
The Deal with Dentals

The Deal with Dentals

Tuesdays with Tony

As you all know, my docs and techs have been doing some traveling this time of year to different continuing education seminars. But did you know, this is a requirement for my docs? They have to go for 30 hours of continuing education every 2 years to stay up to date to the most recent research and talk to other docs about all things equine. They happily oblige as they usually get to go somewhere different, catch up with old friends and colleagues, and learn some pretty neat stuff to bring back to all you lovely folks.

A couple weeks ago, Dr. Abbott went jet setting off to the frigid tundra that is Wisconsin. They asked me to go, but I don’t leave the comfort of my Florida warmth. Since Dr. Abbott has been back, all I have heard about is teeth this and teeth that. Goodness, who cares about teeth that much? I am sure I could eat my canned food just fine even if I did not have any teeth. In fact, I bet I could eat it even faster! Nonetheless, the docs all seem to think your horse’s teeth are pretty important and now they expect me to teach you all about them.

Unlike the superior species that is the cat, horses have hypsodont teeth. This means that their teeth continue to erupt after forming and will do so for most of the horse’s life. This also means that the length of their teeth is limited and therefore so is the lifespan of their teeth. Why is this important, you ask? Well, since their teeth are continuously erupting, this means they are also continuously developing wear patterns as they grind their feed. Horses eat even more than I do, so that’s a lot of wear.

 Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Oral Examination

Horses grind their feed in a circular pattern, and they have the tendency to develop dental problems as they age.  You all have heard about floating horse’s teeth and the importance of the yearly dental. But did you know the bigger part of the yearly dental is actually the oral exam? This is why it’s so important to have your horse’s teeth examined at least yearly by a licensed veterinarian. Luckily, you have my docs at your fingertips. When you call to have a dental performed on your horse, one of my docs will come out and do a thorough physical examination on your horse to make sure he is healthy for sedation. Then they will sedate your horse, place a speculum, and open your horse’s mouth. One of my techs will then place your horse’s head in a head loop and my docs will go to work.

First, they will shine a bright light in your horse’s mouth (and likely in their tech’s eyes, but not on purpose, of course) to inspect all of your horse’s teeth for any abnormalities, including cavities, open roots, fractures, and any other dental problems horses can have. They will also use a mirror or camera to look at the very back of your horse’s mouth and they will probe any areas of concern.  While performing the oral examination they are also looking for any evidence of ulceration, foreign material and abnormalities in the wear of your horse’s teeth.


The Float

Since you all have your horses signed up on my wellness plans, you have been through this process before. But for you slackers out there, I will explain what happens during the dental float. Once my docs have assessed your horse’s mouth and made note of any problem areas, they will grab their float and get to work. During this time, they file down any sharp points that may be causing discomfort to your horse’s soft tissue. They also make sure that your horse’s teeth line up appropriately so they can continue to chew efficiently.

Horses often have conformational challenges that cause their teeth to wear incorrectly, where some teeth grow longer than others or sharp points called hooks develop. Most of the time my docs can correct abnormalities in one float, but sometimes they can’t make full corrections without compromising the integrity of your horse’s tooth. At this point they will likely suggest that your horse be seen again in 4-6 months to continue addressing the abnormality. Most often, however, they will recommend another dental examination with float in 1 year.



One of the best diagnostic tools my docs have on hand is the x-ray machine. Radiographs are great if your horse has nasal discharge, a foul odor from his mouth, or if your horse has been involved in any kind of trauma. If, during your horse’s oral examination, my docs find any concerning areas such as an open root, a fracture, or severe gingivitis, it is likely they will recommend dental radiographs. When my docs take radiographs, they will be able to look at the roots of your horse’s teeth to determine if there is an infection or abscess, if there is a tooth root fracture, and/or if any of your horse’s teeth need to be extracted. As horses age their tooth root becomes shorter and shorter and it is never a bad idea for my docs to shoot some radiographs of your older horse to assess how much tooth root remains and so they can take any preventative measures to maintain what teeth are left. Lucky for you, I had the bright idea to offer a dental radiograph package, so call the girls in the office for more information.



During the final part of your horse’s dental examination and float my docs will look at the front teeth, or incisors. They will check for any abnormalities, overbite, underbite, non-viable teeth or disease, or other conformational changes. At times they may recommend radiographs of the incisors or floating of the enamel points to adjust their bite.  They will also remove any excess calculus that may be on your horse’s canines. For some reason, the docs and techs find this to be the best part of the dental. I, however, find it disgusting.  Either way, it is an important part of the dental as calculus build up can lead to gingivitis and other oral diseases.

You all go to the dentist every year, and you would not let your children skip the dentist, so don’t let your horse skip their yearly dental. Having a thorough oral examination and dental float performed will help keep your horse in tip top shape and prevent the spread of disease, weight loss, and keep them happy and healthy for years to come.

If you desire more information regarding your horse’s teeth and dental requirements, I expect to see you at my open house this Saturday, October 19th from 10am-2pm. Dr. Abbott will be doing a live dental demonstration including the oral examination and floating of sharp enamel points. If you don’t have any questions about dentals, that’s ok, I still expect to see you at the open house. You can pet me, you can get a signed copy of the best-selling book in the horse world, and you can be entered to win a free wellness plan! It’s a triple bonus.


Until next week,


Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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The Curse Of Knowledge

The Curse Of Knowledge

Tuesdays with Tony

My humans have been worrying about the future a lot this week. The weather people say it’s going to get cold (no one seems to remember how often they’re wrong), and with cold weather comes colicky horses. That got me thinking, so this week I asked Kayla, Nancy, Beth, and MJ what they worry about more now that they’ve worked here and seen all the things horses really can do to themselves. After all, they see hundreds of horse problems every year, so they have plenty to worry about with their own horses. We call that the Curse of Knowledge. Here’s their Top 5 list.

#1 Eye ulcers

Maybe you’ve had the Docs come out and put some of that fluorescent green dye in the eye. Then they tell you to use a few ointments 4 times per day, give some Bute or Banamine, and they come back out to check it again in a few days. Lots of eyes heal perfectly well this way. The ones that don’t, however, are the ones my team worries about. My minions have all had the joy of treating ulcers in eyes. They say what makes this one Number 1 on their list is that everything can be done absolutely perfectly, and things can still go bad. These ulcers are also very expensive and extremely time consuming. Treatment very quickly goes into the thousands of dollars, and is a minimum of 4 weeks. My minions also agree eye problems are a great reason to have major medical insurance on your horse!

#2 Very specific lacerations

Last year we had a weanling come in with a very small cut over her hock. She was an extremely well-bred barrel horse. Turns out that small cut went into the hock joint. It looked like no big deal, but because of the location, it was life-threatening. That’s right: life-threatening. Wounds in joints can very easily lead to infections in joints, and infections in joints are extremely difficult to clear in horses. Luckily, with about $5,000 in treatments, my Docs were able to get this one cleared up. MJ was horrified at how small the wound was, how easy it was to overlook, and how bad it all could have ended up. She says she’ll never take a wound for granted again! We all know horses are incredibly fragile, but MJ was amazed to see it action. Also, yet another reason to have major medical insurance on these crazy horses.

#3 Colic

This one had to be on the list. However, my minions said they view colic very differently than they did before working here. All colics used to scare them. Now it’s the colics that don’t respond quickly to drugs. Then they go into full on panic. You see, most colics get some sedation and a little pain relief, a whole lot of water and electrolytes, and off they go. It’s the ones that get painful again very quickly that scare my minions. Too often those are surgical colics. Even if they aren’t surgical, they do require lots of fluids, pain meds, and care. These colics are always touch and go for a bit. And yet another reason to insure horses!

PS on this one: coastal hay is the number one cause of colics. You can feed coastal to your horse, but please, please, please also feed some alfalfa or peanut hay!!

#4 Tendon Injuries

You pick up the trot one day and something doesn’t feel quite right. You wait a day or two and try again: still not right. My Docs come out and do a lameness evaluation, put some novocaine in different parts of the leg until the lameness goes away, and then do an ultrasound. You know you should be worried when the Doc gets “that look” on her face. She tells you it’s a proximal suspensory tear. Why do my minions fear this diagnosis so much? They know it’s a minimum of 6 months of rehab work before we even know if things are going to be back to normal. They know with some of these small tendons and ligaments (like the oblique sesamoidean) that it is nearly impossible to get the horses back to normal. They also know that the best shot for healing comes with extremely diligent physical therapy work, and most people don’t do so well at that part.

#5 Lay Tooth Floaters

I saved this one for last, but it should probably be higher on the list. There are lots of people out there who will “do your horse’s teeth” for not a lot of money. You get what you pay for. Unfortunately you also often get much, much less than you pay for. My minions have seen broken teeth, missed tumors, infections caused or made worse, and, simply put, really bad floats done. Even worse, many lay floaters sedate horses which is AGAINST THE LAW. My Docs went to school for a really long time to know all the things that can go wrong when they sedate a horse. They drive around with a truck full of stuff to manage problems if things do go wrong. My Docs have the knowledge to understand how that little thing they see can be an indicator of BIG problems. I can’t be any clearer: Lay floaters are not a good answer for your horse’s health. Dentistry should be done with bright lights, sedation, a speculum, and a doctor.

Want to know how to keep your horse safe in a scary world? Communicate! My Docs and minions are here to help you. Send pictures, call, email in questions. From abscesses to zoonoses, they’ve got you covered. Now I’m headed for a long winter’s nap.

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Tuesdays with Tony – Dental Mythbusting

Tuesdays with Tony – Dental Mythbusting

I recently spoke about teeth and dentals, but I’m going to do it again. This time I’m going to talk about myths and legends surrounding horse teeth. There’s a saying I hear around here quite often: No Hoof, No Horse. I have a second version: No Tooth, Expensive Feed Bill.  Read on to learn about how to avoid the expensive feed bill. After you finish reading, call, email, or message the Clinic to set up a dental float during the month of July and enjoy a $35 discount!

1.Young horses don’t need dentals

Very, very, very not true. Horses under the age of five years have a ton of stuff going on in their mouths. They have baby teeth leaving and adult teeth growing in. Major changes happen about every 6 months. On top of that, baby teeth and young adult teeth are very soft. This makes them form super-sharp points ridiculously fast. In addition, all those changes need to be monitored. If a tooth erupts not quite correctly, it can be corrected now, and you can avoid a lifetime of dental corrections.

2. Miniature horses don’t need dentals

If ever there was a snaggle-toothed bunch of horses, it’s miniatures. They try to fit the same number of teeth in their mouth as a full-size horse. Sometimes it goes very badly. Minis also like to get what are called supernumerary teeth. These are extra teeth that form for no good reason and cause mass chaos in a mouth. The earlier they are identified, and removed, the better the rest of the teeth will do.

3. Power tools are bad

I covered this one last time, but I’m going to do it again, since I hear this myth the most. Power tools aren’t bad. They let my Docs do the same job on the first horse of the day, and the 10th horse of the day. Power tools get the job done faster, with less stress on your horse, and my Docs. Know what makes power tools bad? People who don’t know how to use them. That’s not my Docs. They go to continuing education every year to stay up to date on the latest research. They also participate in veterinary online forums discussing dentistry for horses. If you have ever used a drill or power saw, then you understand the benefits of power tools. Hand drilling and sawing takes a long, long time, and you’re exhausted after one hole, or board.

4.You can perform a dental float without sedation

Alright, I’ve seen this one a few times. One of these people is even a veterinarian, I’m ashamed to say. Let me nip this in the bud right here and now. Sedation, a full mouth speculum, and a bright light are required to see ALL of your horse’s mouth. Anything less is bad medicine. That mouth goes way back there! There is simply no way to fully evaluate a mouth with anything less!

5. Old horses don’t need dentals

I will give you that some horses, during some periods of their lives, can go two years between dentals. These are horses between 10 and 15 years, who are working as lawn mowers or being lightly ridden periodically, and have a history of dental evaluations which demonstrated good teeth. No matter the age, if your horse is being regularly ridden, it should have a dental float yearly. There may not be much to correct, but that little bit is just as annoying to your horse as that little pebble in your shoe. After about 15 years of age, yearly dental evaluations are needed to check for old teeth. Horses start to wear out their teeth sometime between 15 and 25. The range is that big because a lot of factors are involved in the wearing out of something as significant as a horse tooth. Worn out teeth cause significant pain! Can you imagine chewing on celery with a painful tooth? Yeah, me either. Don’t make your horse chew hay with one.

Keep the pearly whites pearly and white! Schedule your dental evaluation and float In-Clinic during July and get $35 off!! Seriously, that’s a deal! Be sure to bring tuna fish for me, and I will grace you with my presence. I expect scratches under the chin, behind my ears, and along my back.

Tuesdays with Tony – Dentals

Tuesdays with Tony – Dentals

Tuesdays with Tony – Dentals

My usual Saturday solitude was disturbed this past weekend by Dr. Lacher. I had planned on a day of lying on the counter, watching the world through the front window, but instead I watched her do three dentals. I digress momentarily to point out that these three horses are part of our amazing Wellness Program. Click here to find out more about this money, time, and, even, life saving program here at Springhill Equine! Anyway, back to my story. I noticed some things (as a cat, it’s what I do) while watching Dr. Lacher perform these dentals that I would like to share with you.

Good Drugs

The first thing I noticed was a nice dose of sedation for each horse. I thought this was very considerate of Dr. Lacher. I, personally, get full-on anesthesia for dentistry, and I know many humans who would like a nice dose of sedative at the dentist. Dr. Lacher explained to me that this wasn’t just for fun. Sedation allows her to place something called a full-mouth speculum. Turns out, much like me, horses simply will not stand there with their mouth wide open while you work on their teeth. A speculum holds the mouth open so Dr. Lacher can do what is probably the most important part of the dental: a full oral exam.

What’s in there???

veterinarian dental float Holy teeth, Batman! With the speculum on, a bright light shining in there, and the help of a really, really big dental mirror, I was able to see that horse teeth go WAY back. I’m pretty sure they went back at least 5, maybe even 6 feet. That may be an exaggeration, but they go way back there. It was at this point that Dr. Lacher told me some people don’t even use sedation, or a full mouth speculum, or a bright light when they work on horse teeth. I realize I am a cat, and therefore of superior intelligence, but I don’t understand how anyone thinks they can see all the way to the back of the mouth without sedation, a full mouth speculum, and a really bright light. Humans. They do concern me with their decisions sometimes!

OK, but power tools?

After doing an incredibly thorough exam of the mouth, Dr. Lacher pulled out two different power tools. “Whoa!” I said, “just what do you think you’re doing with those?”

“Floating teeth,” was her reply. By the way, in case you are wondering why we call it floating, as I was, it is an older woodworking term for filing wood down until it is smooth.

Dr. Lacher explained that power tools allow her to do a better, more thorough job, in less time with less wear and tear on the horse, and much less wear and tear on her. It allows her to the same job on the first horse she does on the 10th horse of the day. Just like any power tool, it’s not the tool, it’s how you use it. Dr. Lacher further explained that it’s why our Docs go through extensive dentistry training on a very regular basis. They keep up on the latest and greatest in information and treatments for all kinds of dentistry. Power tools get all kinds of bad press, but how many people do you know who saw wood by hand? Same concept.

By the end of the morning, I had learned a good deal more than I ever cared to know about equine dentistry. I learned doing less is way better than doing more, I learned about sharp points and excess transverse ridges, and I even got to see a tooth extraction. Luckily for Dr. Lacher, she was out of the Clinic by noon so I could return to my regularly scheduled Saturday activity. I am pleased to report that seven cars, one dog, and 27 birds were seen out the front window between noon and 3pm at which time I was needed in the cat bed in the back office. Until next week: Happy Napping!

Tuesdays with Tony – Recap of this hectic week

Tuesdays with Tony – Recap of this hectic week

First of all, don’t forget to get out there and VOTE today! I would, but they have this weird policy against cats voting…

Boy did I have a busy week here at the clinic! First, I had to share my favorite cat bed with a pig named Tank, who was boarding here for the week. Then, early Sunday morning I had to supervise the foaling of a mare with Dr. Lacher, and later help teach her colt to nurse for the first time. He’s lucky he’s cute, because usually I sleep until at least 11 hours on Sundays. Thank goodness we got an “extra hour” with the time change this past weekend, or my delicate sleep schedule would be all out of whack!

The doctors were running all over the area this past week, from Lake City to Ocala. Dr. Lacher stopped by Lynn Palm’s Open House on Saturday to demonstrate our awesome FES machine. If you haven’t tried it on your horse yet, you really have to! At $65 per treatment, it’s way less expensive than a chiropractor, masseuse, joint injections, or other treatments for performance horses. FES has helped dozens of our patients to run faster, jump higher, and move more comfortably than ever before. I have even used it on myself, and let me tell you, it feels awesome.

In addition to lameness exams, foal watch, and routine appointments, Dr. Vurgason and Dr. Lacher treated a nasty, infected corneal ulcer in a horse’s eye. It’s amazing what a difference the right medications, administered effectively, can do for a horse!

I invited almost-Dr. Chloe here for an externship last week, and she was great. She let me in the front door whenever I asked, even if I had just asked to go out 30 seconds prior. She hasn’t decided if she wants to be a horse-vet or a cat-vet yet. Personally, I don’t understand why everybody doesn’t want to be a cat vet…we are all so cute and soft and cuddly! Amongst other things, Chloe helped Dr. Vurgason extract 2 teeth from an aged gelding with a painful condition called Equine Odontoclastic Tooth Resorption and Hypercementosis (EOTRH). Say that 5 times fast! We don’t know why this happens to certain horses, but we know it causes the body to attack its own teeth, dissolving bone in some spots, and thickening the tooth in others. Unlike infections of the molars in the back of the mouth, EOTRH affects the incisors, and often causes horses to go off their feed due to pain. The gelding, Fortune, is able to eat much more comfortably now.

In addition to Tank who was as healthy as, well…a pig, Dr. Vurgason treated 3 sick piglets this week. I like the pig patients, because they usually come to the clinic to see me. Although I must say, they can be pretty loud! There is nothing pigs hate more than being restrained. This makes things like taking a temperature, listening to heart and lung sounds, and giving any medication quite a challenge. With pigs, veterinarians rely heavily on observation and asking their owners questions to determine the correct diagnosis.

Between horses, pigs, and the docs, my managerial duties have been in full force! I think I need a nap. And anyway, with the time  change and the days getting shorter, 5:00 feels more like 8:00, which is my bedtime. I’ll catch you cats next week!