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Ask the Vet: Dental Care and Bitless Bridles

Throughout 2015, Dr. Lydia Gray answers your horse health questions.

Photo by William Bigelis/ CC 2.0

Q: I’ve always heard that floating is necessary because unfloated teeth can interfere with the bit. I only ride my horse in a bitless bridle. Does that mean he doesn’t need as much dental work done as other horses do?

A: Floating or rasping a horse’s teeth – that is, removing the sharp points – is necessary because horse teeth grow throughout their lives and can develop sharp edges or “points” which may irritate and actually cut the inside of the cheek and the tongue. So proper dental care is important for any horse, whether it’s ridden or not, and whether the horse is ridden in a bit or not.

Because of the composition, shape, and angle of horses’ teeth—and the way they chew–over time protuberances develop on the outside of the upper cheek teeth and the inside of the lower cheek teeth. Without regular intervention, these “points” can actually lacerate the check tissue or cut into the tongue, which is painful all the time but especially when a horse eats, drinks, or has his head manipulated by tack of any kind.

Floating, whether with hand instruments or mechanical tools, at its most basic level blunts these protuberances so that they don’t slice soft tissue in the horse’s mouth as he opens, closes, or chews. For horses that do carry bits, some dentists round the first cheek teeth so that the bit doesn’t pull lips, gum, or tongue onto this triangular-shaped tooth. This can be uncomfortable for the horse too.

Lydia Gray, DVM

Dr. Lydia Gray is the Medical Director and Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak Equine in Plymouth, MA, where she directs the research and development of products and provides horse health and nutrition education to a wide variety of audiences. Dr. Gray’s work has appeared in more than a dozen general and trade publications and she speaks frequently around the country. She is the proud owner of a Trakehner gelding named “Newman” that she competes in dressage and combined driving.

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