By: Geoff Tucker, DVM
Have you noticed that some horses are wimps with a low or nonexistent threshold for pain while others seem to tolerate all sorts of pain. This seems to be reasonable because if I placed a pebble in your shoe and an identical pebble in your friend’s shoe then sent you both running, one of you would stop and cry while the other would continue to run.
Pain perception is a unique and individual feeling and the response to this pain can also be unique. With oral pain, some horses work through it while others flip over or bolt away.
One of the main reasons I use medication in horses I float is because the horse cannot tolerate the pain from the cheek ulcers caused by the sharp teeth. By adding a potent analgesic medication, the horse can then relax and allow the process to be completed.
In fact one of the reasons I DON’T drug 9 out of 10 horses (statistically over the past several years) in my practice is to see the release from pain the horse experiences as I float. It is the juice we live for in floating. We get that spot and the horse licks the lips and lowers the head. They take a step forward and lightly touch their nose to my elbow. Then they shake their head in relief. Ahhhh – it is what we live for in equine dentistry.
It is not how sharp the teeth are, it is the threshold of pain that determines how often to float a horse. There are other factors as well. Horses under 5 years of age have a dynamic mouth with soft teeth and the shedding of 24 milk teeth over 36 months. A few older horses have “flabby cheeks” (see the picture below) which can make floating the horse almost impossible without medication. The smallest bit possible along with rounding the first cheek teeth is essential for these extremely sensitive horses.
Each tooth needs to be addressed. If the last upper tooth is missed, the sharp edge driving into the cheek can make riding or turning the horse difficult. If one or more sharp edges are left on any tooth then the tongue will avoid the area. This leads to tooth disease, unusual tooth wear, and premature tooth loss. Severe pain may also cause the horse to have difficulty chewing.
In our equine dentistry practice our goal is to remove all sharp points that cause oral pain. Other dentists believe in balancing the jaw or adjusting the bite of the incisors. But in my experience, the removal of pain is essential. With the horse chewing 10,000 to 40,000 times a day (documented), then in 10 days, a horse chews on average a quarter of a million times. If each chew movement is painful, disease and premature loss will result. No pain yields a healthy mouth. If you are spending time and money training your horse, then make the bit experience a pain free one.
More information can be found at The Equine Practice Blog Site.