I’d heard of floating before, but never had a real idea what floating teeth meant or why a horse needed to have its teeth “floated”. The word float didn’t give me much of an idea either, but after my mares last vet check I was informed that she needed one and I was going to learn something new.
According to her vet, a “float” meant filing the edges of her molar teeth (located in the back of her mouth). The molars need to be filed because over time sharp edges develop on the outside of the upper molars and the inside of the lower molars. This is quite normal and happens over time as a result of chewing. A horse’s upper jaw is wider than its lower jaw and they chew using a side-to-side motion that over time produces sharp edges.
Sharp edges can cut the tongue or cheeks and cause discomfort or pain, especially when bridling. It can also inhibit proper chewing and food digestion, which is why we check the teeth of a horse that is losing weight.
Wild horses crush certain rocks with their teeth, perhaps in this way attending to their own dental needs.
Before a float horses are often given a sedative. This is to help them relax, not because the procedure is painful. In fact, the molar teeth don’t have nerves near the region where the filing is performed. A special halter is placed over the head that keeps the horse’s mouth held wide open, then the exam and filing can begin.
Using a flat file in a sawing motion the edges of the teeth are then smoothed out. Alternatively a “power float” (see video) uses a spinning circular (abrasive) disc on the end of a power tool, like a big dental drill. Once the horse is prepped the whole procedure is over in a few minutes.
There is no fixed interval for having a horse’s teeth floated because some wear their teeth quickly and others slowly, but it’s a good idea to ask your vet for an oral exam at regular check-ups or if you suspect there might be a problem.