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Dentistry for performance horses - Barrel Racing Advice

Equine Dentistry – What’s all the BUZZ about?

For some of us, horse care might take on a serious ancient algorithm. It seems that one person gleans results from a certain process or product, and the next minute - another lady is suggesting you stay far away from what the first person had success with. Opinions and tradition are enough to make your head spin. Equine dental care has a lot of ‘buzz’ about choosing one method or another. There is one way however, scientifically proven, to work for every horse in the same way. And the crazy thing is that the “buzz” about this procedure has NO buzz at all.

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Natural Balance Dentistry employs the use of manual hand tools by a trained ‘mouth-matician’ - They don’t use power tools to grind down tooth enamel (it’s a no buzz zone). This method has only a few key principles but a wide range of positive effects: Start with the front incisors first, file with the natural curvature of the mouth, and address the teeth in a manner of accommodating the TMJ. Natural Balance Dentists have extensive training in evaluating the horse’s body movement, posture, pain AND mouth – all fixed NON-invasively. While this method might not surprise you, the results will.

Better Nutrition by way of better Dentistry?

It’s a no-brainer to figure that after a trip to the dentist, a horse should be able to eat better. But balancing the mouth is more than getting them to ‘chew well’. The whole body works as system, a system that starts in the mouth and depends on food for survival. A horse’s ability to retrieve all nutrients from food, and digest those nutrients solely depends on the way his mouth works.

Traditional (and common) dental practices by Veterinarians and traditional “Equine Dentists” lends favor to being cosmetically and centrically correct but NOT anatomically or neurologically correct. Most practitioners alter the bite plane to that of a ‘convenience bite’. Knocking off the points or grinding away edges with a power tool procedures are proven to be harmful to horse’s on several levels of wellness.

“With all of these factors taken into consideration, we have what amounts to anatomical balance, according to that individual horse.” Spencer LaFlure

A lack of understanding in the neurology and biology of the horse paired with power tools is a recipe for disaster. It not only creates true problems with proprioception but it takes away the cutting/grinding ability of the horse, and can shorten a horse’s lifespan by blitzing away at only 4 inches of tooth a horse will erupt within his entire lifetime.

The results of traditional methods may leave you a “hangry” horse. Which we outwardly try to accommodate the lacking body mass and grouchy attitude by feeding them better/more/high quality feed and supplements (remember Heather’s detox post?). Resulting in a waste of time and money since the horse can’t eat or metabolize it properly in the first place.

This process is similar to the age old advice your mother told you about chewing your food enough times before you swallow. So you don’t choke and your tummy doesn’t hurt. In order for a horse to receive the most nutrient-rich diet, his mouth has to be allowed to move the way nature intended. The way he rips grass up from the ground, cuts it with the back molars and grinds it as he chews can make or break his wellness from a foundational level.

Horses that haven’t been floated with the key principles of natural balance have some serious issues to face. They can’t find food (by foraging via proprioception) or choose the best bite to pickup. They grab for anything they find and “chew” it. The present mastication doesn’t work so well because the grinding surface has been taken away, so enough saliva isn’t created to coat the food on the way down. And while he might be getting food down the hatch, it’s certainly not getting delivered to the gut in a very nice package.

Cue chocking, colic, stomach and ulcers problems. As the food moves further down to his stomach, there aren’t enough small saliva coated pieces of forage or concentrate to make digestion a friendly experience. The continually produced stomach acid isn’t being buffered by the bicarbonate in the saliva, instead it’s just sloshing up on the top of the horses gut instead of breaking down food like it is meant to do 17 hours a day.

Many times we see horse behavior that exhibits pain in relation to gut health. His head will be held high, his gait will be choppy, he might shake his head, or run off and become hard to stop, or he may be very one sided. And that’s when a training problem might actually be a nutrition problem, correlated directly with what is happening in the horse’s mouth.

So what’s in his mouth anyway?

There must be several characteristics present in a horse’s mouth in order to make food work for him, and not against him. Knocking off hooks and points just won’t cut it – pun intended. An evaluation of the front incisor alignment, the Curve of Cameron, Curve of Spee, and range of the Temporomandibular Joint each have a factor in ALL aspects of every horse’s health, and each must work together!

(Notice first green circle in front is around the incisors, the red line shows how the molars dictate the dental arches of Cameron and Spee, and the green circle toward the ears is around the TMJ.)

Notice that this skull portrays a very multi dimensional mouth! There is NOTHING level, flat, or smooth about it. It is an example of a relatively correct and balanced mouth.

(The Curve of Spee is the upwards or steep curve more posterior on the mandible.)

Some teeth (towards the nose) are higher than teeth resting in the cheek area, and some teeth (toward the ear) are higher than the cheek area. The reason these are not and CAN NOT be flat or level front to back is that they need to pose a grinding surface. It is NOT an up-and- down chomping type of grind.

(Slanted upward toward the roof of the mouth for a reason!)

The motion is a circular/oval type of grind. Similar to the way the waves work against the sand; the teeth, tongue and muscles that control each one must flow rhythmically against the food to break it down.

Without the right alignment or “feeling” in the front incisors they can’t judge what piece of grass or plant to rip out of the ground. The front teeth “choose” the right size grass for the back teeth. In horses this movement is called ‘translation’. Without the correct angle or slant of the back teeth, the jaw (hinging from the TMJ) can’t offer the translation movement free enough to chew properly. The back teeth grind food for the gut. The vibration from the translation causes the body to produce saliva. The saliva coats the food and is needed to break down and deliver the nutritive properties of the forage. Lastly, of course the nutrients give you a sane and happy barrel horse!

Is your dentist in the groove?

The Advanced Whole Horse Learning Center that Specializes in Nuero Muscular Concepts provided this chart below to give you a good idea on why the differences matter:

Neuromuscular Natural Balance Dentistry vs Mainstream Floating            

· Center and stabilize the TMJ by balancing all angles of teeth to fit perfectly on both sides of the mouth and leaving texture to the teeth.

· Start with incisors first to set up length and angle of a 5 year old then go to the molars filing only certain protrusions, leaving texture and perfect contact.

· Mild sedation for 95% of horses using horse friendly techniques with head relaxed in natural, grazing position.

· Will assess horse and gait and movement before getting opening the mouth.

· Will produce immediate results in the horses’ comfort, body movement, posture and performance (often noticeable as soon as they are ridden and lasting at least a year) Total mass and top line improvement seen in two weeks

· File off points and protrusions usually making the molar tables flat and round. This makes the TMJ unstable. They don’t create proper and perfect table angles equal on both sides of the mouth

· Start with the molars then go to the incisors making gaps in teeth connections.

· Most often use heavy sedation and have to hang the head or prop them up on a stilt.

· Typically untrained in physical, gait assessment and imbalances of the body.

· Will produce some results after a few days lasting only 3 months or so, then the body and performance fall apart. Muscle atrophy and lameness will appear in 6-8 months.

Tricks and trends fall in and out of the barrel racing industry all the time. It is important to weigh what you learn against what works for your horse and your horsemanship. My protocol for helping people and training horses goes as such: feet, teeth, saddle fit. Something as basic as focusing on these 3 things can really start things off in the right direction, and prevent discovering deep seeded lameness down the road.

As horse owners and barrel horse jockeys that require high levels of performance and partnership of our horses, we owe it to ourselves to do the research of the principles that will give us the greatest return on our investment. Spending the money on quality supplements and countless exhibitions is part of the process of success. In addition, so is spending invaluable hours on learning how to enable our horses to get the most out of what we where providing. Nutrition is a big key in allowing success to happen, and the right dentist can make or break a barrel horse’s career.

Questions about this proven technique of safely floating horse’s can be researched at, where you can also find a practitioner near you. Special thanks to Texan, Reba Frye for her expertise on horse teeth, she is an instructor from the Natural Balance Dentistry school where her services can be requested.

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