The process of rasping or filing a horse’s teeth is known as floating. This is the most common dental procedure veterinarians perform on horses. Floating removes sharp enamel points and can create a more even bite plane. It also helps keep incisors and cheek teeth at a desirable length.
When turned out on pasture, horses browse almost continuously, picking up dirt and grit in the process. This, plus the silicate in grass, wears down the teeth. Stabled horses, however, may not give their teeth the same workout. Feedings are more apt to be scheduled, not continuous, and to include processed grains and hays. Softer feeds require less chewing. This may allow the horse’s teeth to become excessively long or to wear unevenly. Adult horse’s teeth erupt throughout their life and are worn off by chewing.
Unfortunately, cheek teeth tend to develop sharp enamel points even under normal grazing conditions. Because the horse’s lower jaw is narrower than its upper jaw and the horse grinds its feed with a sideways motion, sharp points tend to form along the edges. Points form on the cheek side of the upper teeth and the tongue side of the lower teeth. These points should be rasped to prevent them from cutting the cheeks and tongue.
Floating is especially important in horses who have lost a tooth, or whose teeth are in poor apposition and do not fit together well. Normally, contact with the apposing tooth keeps biting surfaces equal. When cheek teeth are out of alignment, hooks can form.
If left unchecked, these hooks can become long enough to penetrate the hard or soft palate. Small hooks can be removed by floating. Longer hooks are usually removed with molar cutters or a dental chisel.