Horses don't get their teeth cleaned routinely like people, dogs or cats. Brushing teeth is also not too commonly done. What horses do get is their teeth "floated."
The teeth located in the cheek area (back of the mouth) can develop spurs and sharp edges over time. These points can cause pain, difficulty chewing and eating problems. These edges of the teeth are ground off with a metal instrument. If you have never seen a horse get his teeth floated, it may seem like a barbaric painful procedure reminiscent of a scene from "Papillon" but actually, it isn't painful for the horse and can greatly help treat and prevent some of the more common dental ailments in horses.
What Is Floating?
The most common dental preventative treatment that is routinely performed in adult horses is "rasping" or "floating" the cheek teeth.
Dental rasping is a procedure that uses "dental floats" – hand-held instruments comprising a handle and a head. At the head is a grinding surface, often composed of carbide-tungsten. The grinding surface of the dental float is moved backwards and forwards along the sharp edges of the cheek teeth with the intention to smooth off the sharp corners and improve the ease with which the tongue can be moved inside the oral cavity.
Remarkably, dental rasping is often accomplished in the standing horse with minimal restraint. For some horses, a light sedative may be useful to facilitate the procedure. Some dental rasping gear is powered so that the veterinarian's work entailed in completing the procedure may be lessened. The use of powered gear is especially helpful when a large number of horses are being treated. Unfortunately, sometimes the powered gear is used to excess and causes marked smoothing of the dental surfaces. Excessive rasping will worsen underlying dental disease and removes the important grinding surface of the cheek teeth. This can have disastrous results. The teeth are supposed to have a degree of irregularity in order to allow the horse to chew and grind hay.
How Often Should Teeth Be Rasped?
The frequency with which the cheek teeth are rasped (floated) must be determined for each individual horse. It is currently fashionable to undertake dental rasping on a very frequent basis, regardless of individual need. As a rule, most horses probably do not require extensive rasping more frequently than once yearly – many horses maintain excellent oral hygiene by having their cheek teeth rasped every 2 to 3 years. It should be noted that it is regular examinations and not regular rasping that prevents the development of severe dental disorders. It is easier to correct a problem in the early stage before it has had time to become a real issue.