Like people, horses need routine dental appointments. One of the most important procedures is called “floating.” Here is an introduction to the basics and evolution of a horse’s teeth, and why today these teeth must be manually ground by an equine dentist.
Understanding Horse Teeth
Horses have “hypsodont” teeth; this means that their teeth are long and set deep into the gum (a “high crown”). Hypsodont teeth have very short roots that connect the teeth to the jawbone. These teeth “erupt” at a rate of approximately 2-3 millimeters every year.
Why Do a Horse’s Teeth Grow?
The earliest “horses” emerged 55 million years ago, but they were considerably smaller than even today’s littlest ponies. As horses evolved, their sizes and dentistry simultaneously evolved to meet environmental needs.
The very first horses had short teeth suitable for a diet of forest leaves. Some of these early horses navigated to the plains,which consisted of tougher grasses. The horses that navigated to these areas had to adapt to this diet change, and over time, their teeth lengthened into the hypsodont teeth present in the species today.
The Link Between the Past with the Present
The first grass-eating horses consumed soils and minerals along with the grasses. These soils and minerals slowly shaved away at horses’ teeth, but the teeth grew back at a comparable rate.
Today, horses no longer survive on a diet of tough plains grasses. Horse owners usually give their animals a variety of different hays, pellets, oats, and grains; domesticated horses still graze on pasture grasses, but these fortified fields do not have the shaving effect that wild, mineral- and soil-rich grasses provide.
As a result of this diet change, a horse’s teeth grow faster than the rate that the diet shaves off. A horses’s hypsodont teeth are still equipped to handle its diet of yesterday, but few domesticated horses still eat enough sediment to wear away enough of the tooth to compensate for the growth.
Equine Dentistry to the Rescue
When a horse’s teeth grow faster than it can naturally wear down, the teeth can grow into painfully sharp angles. As a result, the horse will have difficulty eating and might refuse to eat altogether.
Modern equine dentistry can alleviate this evolutionary problem with a procedure called “floating.” “Floating” is the evening out of these sharp tooth edges. Horses that are five years of age and younger should have their teeth floated every six months, and horses that are over five years of age should undergo the procedure annually. Horses older than 20 years of age and horses that exhibit signs of teeth problems, such as eating difficulties, mouth sensitivities, foul mouth odors, and weight loss, should have their teeth floated more often.
If you need more help, contact a company like Horizon Equine Veterinary Services.