Dental Floating Value

Maintaining dental health is believed to be critical to optimum feed intake, digestive tract health, and body condition. In Western Canada, there are about 70,000 PMU mares that usually don't get routine dental care. Researchers from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan decided to see if dental floating could improve feed digestibility, increase weight gain, and improve body condition score (BCS) in some of these mares.

Fiftysix mares of various types and breeds, three to 18 years old and about four months pregnant, were studied. None had ever been floated. Baseline weight and BCS were recorded for each mare, along with assignment to one of four feeding groups: Hay and oats, hay and soy pellets, hay and canola meal pellets, and all hay.

On Day 1, each mare was sedated and orally examined by James Carmalt, VetMB, MVetSc, Dipl. ABVP. All dental lesions were recorded by type, which included hooks, ramps, stepped and cupped teeth, wave mouth, and sharp lateral edges. Carmalt said a lifelong lack of dental care did not produce any extreme lesions in the mares. "The abnormalities seen were neither more nor less severe than what we see in horses in our practice area," he explains.

Half of each group was randomly assigned to get thorough dental floating by Carmalt, and the other half were untreated controls. He noted, "We saw a number of mares with teeth I would consider poor, but with no weight loss or poor body condition to match."

Body weight and BCS were again measured on selected days, then every four weeks until week 24. Amounts of hay and grain consumed by each mare were recorded for three of the six months studied. Feces were also collected to examine feed particle size to help determine feed digestibility. Feed left on the stall floor was considered an indicator of "quidding," or dropping feed due to inadequate chewing. Daily water intake was measured, and water balance (water in/water out) was calculated.

The results were somewhat surprisingÑ dental floating did not yield the improvements expected. The only difference seen between the four feed groups was weight gain, and this could be attributed to differences in the energy content of feeds (canola meal pellets had the highest energy content and yielded the most weight gain). The weight gain difference was unrelated to floating. The only variables related to floating that showed a statistical difference were water intake and water balance, which were both increased in mares that had dental floating. This increase has no ready explanation.

The authors note that routine oral exams shouldn't be discounted based on these results, because regular exams are the only way to identify oral problems, including injuries, severe lesions, or growths. This study was also not intended to address benefits of long-term routine dental care.

Carmalt, J.L.; Townsend, Hugh G.G.; Janzen, Eugene D.; et al. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 225 (12): 1889-1893, 2004.

About the Author

Susan Piscopo, DVM, PhD

Susan Piscopo, DVM, PhD, is a free-lance writer in the biomedical sciences. She practiced veterinary medicine in North Carolina before accepting a fellowship to pursue a PhD in physiology at North Carolina State University. She lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and two sons.

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