Firstly, I must stress that any tool used on a horse's mouth is only as dangerous as the hands that drive it. The same can be said for a surgery scalpel, or a rifle. In the hands of experts, they can save lives, but in the hands of an uneducated and inexperienced operator, they can be lethal.
I used solely hand floats for 10 years before first acquiring a PowerFloat (able to only be used legally by registered Veterinarians). Now I use that PowerFloat on 99 % of my cases. My Powerfloat has a small, thin head which permits me to work in both the front and back of the mouth easily (and much more comfortably for the horse); this lets me do a much better and more consistent job than what I can do with my hand tools.
But I strongly oppose the use of power tools (or hand tools) by an unqualified, inexperienced operator.
With the use of power tools in a horse's mouth the following risks must be well understood and addressed:
a) Heat production — water cooling must be used if a single tooth needs to be reduced in height. In that instance, the grinding wheel is held in the one spot for more than five seconds. There have been accurate and reliable scientific tests done to show that the tooth must be cooled after 15-20 seconds of grinding on it with a Power Float tool. Other power tools may need more frequent cooling. b) Electricity — AC electricity (plug in to wall socket) and water are a risky combination. So the operator MUST always use a lead with an Earth Leakage Safety Switch (= Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter). Unfortunately, there have been 4 people and 1 horse killed through electrocution when safety procedures haven't been followed when using power tools. c) Tooth Dust — the enamel dust is fine and if inhaled on a large scale, may put the operator at risk of lung cancer as with cigarette smoke and asbestos. Thus a mask must be worn by the dental operator. Since the horse only has a float once or twice per year, the risk to it is insignificant. The owner only needs protection if holding lots of horses for the dental operator. d) Exposure of Pulp (which contains the nerves etc in the tooth). Whether using hand tools or power tools, and a tall tooth, hook etc is being reduced in size, the operator must use knowledge, experience, judgement, and most importantly — VISUALISATION (FLUSHED OUT MOUTH, LIGHT, MIRRORS ETC) to prevent accidental exposure of the pulp. For if that were to occur, then the tooth is at great risk of suffering a painful infection to the pulp and eventual death and abscessation of the tooth. If pulp exposure is to occur, then a pulp capping procedure needs to be done. e) Sedation of the horse. In all parts of Australia, sedation can only be legally administered by a registered veterinarian. If a non vet is prepared to break the law as part of their dental service, then they need to inform you that you are taking part in an illegal act. The reasons for this are many and are set up to protect consumers. Some reasons include:
(i) Vets are trained during 5 years at University to know how to combine up to 5 different sedatives in order to arrive at the safest medication necessary to prevent the horse become worried, stressed or injured. (ii) Insurance — if any accident occurs whilst a horse is illegally sedated (i.e. by a non vet), and injury to the horse, owner or practitioner is sustained, then all insurance policies will likely be null and void. Eg public liability of the property, mortality insurance on the horse, public liability of the practitioner. (iii) Veterinarians are trained in how to treat the horse should any unforeseen problems arise. The vet should listen to the heart of the horse, and assess the suitability of the animal before the anaesthesia is administered. (iv) Veterinarians have professional support and back up should any infections, injuries, unforseen problems arise from the dental procedure. And because they are usually local practitioners, they can easily revisit the horse over the next few days to weeks should it be needed. (v) Aftercare. If a horse should need post dental antibiotics or pain relief, only a vet will be legally able to provide those.
Whether using power tools or hand tools, ALL horses should receive a full dental examination with a full speculum, sedation, dental pick, a good mouth light and dental mirror. All dental findings should be recorded on a written dental chart and a copy should be left with the owner for their future reference. In terms of dentistry, it is always better to remove the least amount of tooth as possible to achieve the desired effect. In most cases, this is simply the sharp enamel point, along with some rounded bevelling up of those edges, so that the sharp points don't return for 6-12 months (depending on age and diet). Thus the horse is comfortable whilst eating and when bitted up. In good hands, the PowerFloat tool (can only legally be used by vets) is gentler, more effective, efficient, precise, thorough and affords a far better job. It also allows a wider range of corrective procedures to be done. For example, the treatment of periodontal disease (which affects 60 % of horses over 15 years of age), impacted teeth in young horses etc.
We have a stallion and I noticed when he is eating his chaff he stretches his neck out and turns his head, kind of on its side when he is chewing. Does this indicate teeth problems?
Turning the head or putting the head in unusual positions may indicate that the horse has dental issues that need to be addressed.