Veterinary Teaching Hospital

Equine Dentistry

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine provides dentistry services to equine patients in our hospital and on the farm through our equine field service. If you have questions about our services, please contact us.

  • For in-hospital treatment, please call 540-231-9043.
  • For on-farm treatment, please call 540-231-9042.

What is “floating”?

Floating is the term used for filing or grinding down a horse’s teeth to remove sharp points or to take the teeth down to the proper level. Because of the way horses' mouths are configured, they can develop sharp points on the outside of their upper cheek teeth and on the inside of their lower cheek teeth. These can cause irritation and ulceration on their cheeks and on their tongue, especially if they horse is ridden a lot. In addition, horse’s teeth grow constantly, so if they are not being ground down by the opposing tooth, they may develop teeth that are taller than they should be.

How do I know when my horse needs a dental exam?

Signs your horse’s teeth may need attention include:

  • Dropping feed
  • Abnormal behavior when being ridden (tossing head, going poorly in one direction, trying to avoid bit)
  • Loss of weight
  • Colic
  • Episodes of choke
  • Foul odor coming from the mouth or nostrils
  • Discharge coming from just one nostril

Typically horses’ teeth should be checked once every year. If you have a horse that has been diagnosed with dental problems in the past, you should have his/her teeth checked more frequently (i.e., every 6 months). The time between floating varies greatly from horse to horse. Some need their teeth floated every year (or even more frequently), but some horses may go for years without needing a float.

What are the parts of a dental exam?

  • The horse’s mouth is flushed with water to remove hay and grain so the teeth can be properly assessed.
  • If the teeth need to be floated, the horse will be sedated.
  • A speculum is placed in the mouth to hold the incisors open so that the molars and cheek teeth can be examined.
  • A motorized instrument is used to grind the teeth, smooth the edges, level the arcades, and correct any occlusal abnormalities.
  • The mouth is then rinsed once more; the speculum is removed; and incisors are checked to make sure they meet in the middle and are even.