Rasp vs. Power Tool: The Battle for Equine Teeth
Updated: Feb 18
by Dr. Keaton Massie, DVM
Massie Veterinary Services
Horse owners and veterinarians often talk about what kind of dentistry is best for horses. Back and forth the conversation will go. One side is in favor of hand rasps and the other in favor of power tools with abrasive discs (also commonly known as power float). This discussion can be quite heated at times due to the strong opinions about either method.
Very commonly veterinarians are on the side of power floats with supportive comments such as:
“When the mouth is fully open with a speculum you can more easily find problems like cavities”
“You can get a better occlusion surface”
“It is much faster, easier on the body”
Proponents of hand rasps very commonly use supportive comments such as:
“Horse doesn’t have to be sedated”
“My horse likes it better”
“It’s more natural”
I know you all want to know which one is better. The answer is neither. I’m sure that is not the answer you wanted. Hand rasps can give a perfect float to your horse's teeth, creating a natural occlusion surface or a poor one. Power floats can give a perfect occlusion surface or take too much material off, preventing the horse from chewing properly. There is one sentence that can sums up the differences between hand rasps and power floats:
“It is not the tool that does a great job, it is the person behind the tool.”
There are also many discussions in the equine industry about “equine dentists” and veterinarians. Again the differences between them refer to the sentence above and the value of veterinary medical training, but that is for another blog. There is a strong difference between the two.
Equine dentistry is a crucial aspect of horse care that is often overlooked. The teeth and jaws of horses are constantly in use, whether for grazing, chewing hay, or communicating with riders.
Without proper dental care, horses can experience a range of problems that can affect their overall health and well-being, such as difficulty chewing and digesting food, pain and discomfort in the jaw and head, and the development of sharp points and hooks on the teeth. Proper dental care is essential for maintaining the overall health and optimal performance of horses.
Why Equine Dentistry and Why Hand Rasps?
One of the most common issues caused by poor equine dentistry is dental malocclusion - misalignment of the upper and lower jaws. This often leads to difficulty in chewing and digesting food, which can cause weight loss and malnutrition. It can also lead to pain and discomfort in the jaw, which can affect a horse's behavior and performance.
The act of chewing different forages and feeds can cause uneven wear on the teeth, resulting in sharp edges and hooks on the upper and lower molars that can cut the cheeks and tongue, causing pain and inflammation. Dental floating removes these sharp edges and hooks.
Adequate dental care also allows for the proper eruption of permanent teeth by removing shedding deciduous teeth, reducing pain associated with bit use, and enabling easier training. It also helps to alleviate pain in the Temporomandibular joint (TMJ).
I use hand rasps, and typically do not sedate a horse or use a speculum for a dental, because I want the horse to be able to respond to what I am doing. I feel each tooth with my fingers. I teach the horse to be o.k with the rasp and I take considerable time not to scare them.
During the dental, horses will often move their mouth on top of the rasp where they are experiencing discomfort themselves, or move their bodies and head that show me where the problem is. That doesn’t happen if they are sedated and their head is suspended from a rafter or stocks. Using hand rasps is a communication between me and the horse. The owner is present and we can talk about what the horse is showing me and how my dental is relieving any discomfort. It is visible in the moment. Serious abnormalities can be investigated with sedation and speculum, but these are not my first “go-to”.
Best equine dentistry practices
A horse's teeth can provide valuable insights into early signs of illness and by conducting regular examinations, severe and painful dental issues can be reduced or prevented. Horse owners should also be aware of the signs of dental problems, such as difficulty eating or changes in behavior, and seek veterinary attention if they suspect a problem. Horse owners should not wait until a horse is middle-aged to provide dental attention. Minor issues can easily be corrected when detected earlier than much later when aggressive techniques would be needed.
I recommend that all horses receive a dental check-up at least once a year. These check-ups can include a thorough examination of the teeth, jaws, and gums, as well as any necessary treatments such as floating sharp edges, removing any retained deciduous teeth, and extractions of any diseased teeth. Horses that are expected to perform at a high level or those with particular dental issues may require more frequent evaluations, as they may not exhibit symptoms of dental abnormalities.
It is a good thing that modern equine dentistry has made significant progress and now enables correction, balance, and equilibrium of incisors and the entire molar arch with specialized power tools. But this also comes with challenges.
While the use of power tools for equine dentistry can make the process faster and more efficient, it can also result in over-floating. Power float can lead to excessive removal of tooth structure, the need for heavy sedation, and potential damage to teeth due to the heat generated during grinding.
To avoid this, I follow a time proven approach in my dental procedures and refrain from using power tools. Only cases of severe dental issues necessitate the use of a speculum and sedation.
Dental abnormalities, even minor ones, can prevent horses from reaching their full athletic potential and create health problems. Hand-rasp equine dentistry can help you to maintain the overall health and well-being of your horse. Contact me below and I'd be happy to answer your questions about equine dental care and hand rasp equine dentistry.