How Important is Balance?
Balance. Equilibration. Floating. These are terms you’ll hear regarding equine dentistry practice but they are not new equine dentistry concepts. Equilibration, also known today as a three-point-balance, is the same as what was known and practiced by horse dental specialists in the late 1800-early 1900’s. Equilibration, or balance, is simply the result of floating a horse correctly.
So what is the physical result of a correct, professional equine dental float?
The result should be that as a horse chews, all viable teeth are in contact and bear the same amount of pressure and wear at the proper angles to allow forage and feed to travel from the incisors across the arcade, or plane of the teeth. Food is processed in the horse’s mouth in such a way as to optimize digestion and promote the optimal absorption of nutrients. Floating ensures that all teeth are in correct contact which optimizes a horse’s ability to process its food and maintain comfort during performance.
Remember that a horse is born with all of the tooth structure it’s going to have over its lifetime.
Besides keeping a horse comfortable, saving owner’s money on feed, helping to prevent health problems like choke and colic, and supporting a horse’s overall performance, a dental float is also intended to prevent premature erosion of teeth and preserve tooth structure.
Some maintain that a “float” is a term that only refers to addressing the sharps points of the molars and does not refer to corrections that might be required for incisors or canine teeth. That is simply incorrect. Canine teeth that are not reduced as necessary during a float procedure can become painful for the horse and result in bitting discomfort, in addition to being a dangerous if the horse is mouthy. Plaque, or tartar that develops around the canines must be removed to prevent infection and gum loss. Malformations resulting in conditions like monkey mouth (underbite), parrot mouth (overbite), wedge-mouth (slanted incisors) need to be addressed for the whole health of the horse. Keep in mind that an underbite or overbite can only be diagnosed when a horse’s head it in a neutral position. The position of the jaws depends in part on the position of the horse's head. With the head down as with grazing, the lower jaw tends to slide further forward; with the head up (as in a gallop), the upper jaw tends to slide backward. Some owners think that their horse has an underbite or an overbite when their horse’s teeth are in fact quite normal relative to the position of the horse’s head.
Deviations from correct equine dentistry practice and performing improper/unnecessary modifications to a horse’s teeth, results in devastating affects to the horse. Some examples of these deviations include instruments not being used properly, incorrect instruments being used, arcade angles being altered improperly, healthy adult teeth being pulled due to a mere protuberance (hook), fracturing teeth by the improper use of equipment, cosmetic procedures, too much tooth being removed resulting in extensive correction being required, causing the death of the root structure of teeth due to the heat of power tools, and severe protuberances (hooks) being ignored.
You’ve heard the term “no hoof, no horse.” This applies to a horse’s teeth as well. Angles are just as important for a horse’s teeth as they are for its feet. Balance and alignment are important whether you’re referring to teeth, feet, or even riding technique. Having a basic understanding of your horse’s dental health will help you understand how a dental float, by definition, is the path toward achieving balance and equilibration.
Distinguishing terms are often used to influence the differentiation of products and services in the marketplace, or to justify exclusivity and higher prices. It happens everywhere, including within the field of equine dentistry. An equine dental practitioner must evaluate the angles within a horse’s mouth, including the incisors and canine teeth, as part of their standard practice, and address these angles in a professional manner in order to promote a horse’s overall well-being. This technique of balance and equilibration is not a specialty deserving of distinction; it’s standard practice among professionals in the equine dental field.