Performance Horse Hacks - Equine Dentistry
Updated: Oct 10, 2019
We shouldn’t consider a source to be true unless it is heard straight out of where it came from. Sometimes, we will make decisions about our horse’s care based on what other people recommend; not necessarily on what the individual horse needs. In this series I will share key components about equine health. Focusing on dentistry, feed and supplements & it'll be ‘Straight from the Horse’s Mouth’.
Let’s start with a Pop Quiz, answer the following as it applies to you:
1. Does your Equine Dentist…?
A. Balance the whole mouth
B. Knock off some hooks every 3 years
C. Have the same observation for each horse
2. What tools does your Equine Dentist use?
A. Hand files of different ‘bite strengths’
B. Power tools and sedation
C. A rusty old rasp
3. How was your Equine Dentist trained?
A. Through Vet school and 50+hours of C.E. under a professional
B. 2 week introductory course during Vet School
C. Self taught on the ranch from Grandpa
4. Is your Equine Dentist familiar with...?
A. Equine skeletal system, acupressure, chiropractics and biomechanics
B. A lameness exam
C. Lifts lip flaps up
Hopefully you answered “A.” to at least 3 of these, otherwise your horse could be OUT of balance, OUT of whack and you could be OUT of money trying to fix something you didn’t know was based in the mouth.
Here’s the deal - teeth are one of the most important players of soundness in the horse’s body (the other is feet…another blog, another day). You’ve heard the saying ‘no hoof no horse’, the same saying goes for teeth. The mouth of an equine affects their appetite, nutrition absorption, digestion, body condition, balance, coordination, feet, skeletal structure and performance. An equine dentist and education of basic healthy teeth should be a main priority and NOT an afterthought.
Most of us care about our horse's health, but in a backwards sort of way than we should be addressing it. We will spend hundreds of dollars on high quality supplements to make their coat gleam and their energy spark. And when we notice subtle lamenss or training issues we use drugs or training tools to fix coverup the main issue. But we might be missing the main ingredient to wellness (and wasting money in the process). Horses need a balanced mouth.
but first who this is not for:
"Speedy Gonzales": If you're not going to slow down to listen to your horse, don't bother asking.
"Wiggle Worm": Don't get yourself head-butted, make sure horse can stand calmly and not hurt you.
"Biting Bucky": Don't get bit.
3 things you can check on your own horse:
1. Facial Symmetry
If you horse's head is crooked this could be an indicator of some imbalances in the mouth. The skin and muscles in a horse are all connected by fascia. This fascia is like a sheet of fiber that can be easily moved and stretched. If the facial features are not even, but higher on one side or the other, or one side is bigger than the other consider it feedback from the mouth. When there is pathology in the mouth (overgrowth, hooks, steep ramps, etc) it has the ability to move the fascia around the face as the skull starts to change it's form to compensate for teeth that need attention.
2. Incisor Bite
Over bite? Under bite? Teeth that bulge or bow? Jagged edges or lines? You have a big problem. Once the bite is compensated from being smooth, even and slightly angled it starts to negatively affect the molars, which affect the TMJ. The temporal mandibular joint houses many vital qualities. If that joint is tight and sore from teeth being neglected it won't have proper mobility. The TMJ is the first joint (going cranial to caudal) in a horses skeleton. Consider balance, vision, and ability to eat at stake.
Dropping moderate amounts of grain, chunks of half-chewed hay, and lots of foam and drool to be trouble. It's not that your horse is a lazy or fast eater. If your horse can't masticate in a sideways oval type direction then you are wasting money feeding him, he is not getting nutrients he needs because it never grinds up into a digestible form, and his gut health is at stake because stomach acid becomes his own enemy. Anything other than peaceful/rhythmic chewing should be cause for concern. The incisors rips, and the molar glide/grind down the forage - if this method is altered don't expect to have a happy horse.
*4. TMJ check (bonus) *
TMJ sensitivity can be checked by standing on the side of your horse and placing each hand on either side of his face. If you take 2 fingers and press in on the zygomatic arch with moderate pressure you can test the sensitivity of the jaw. A horse that thrusts his head upward, tilts his face to the side or shy's away is TELLING you there is a problem.
If you can evaluate these things and your horse gives you feed back that he might be uncomfortable your horse's teeth evaluated by an Equine Dentist specializing in Whole Mouth Mechanics and Balance? A great dentist will be able to tell you a lot from a simple exam, without even opening up the mouth.
This video is a general example of how a thorough exam might take place from a vet:
Dr. Landes of Equine Medical Services demonstrates.
Some problems related to the mouth may be indicated by:
Stumbling, tripping, eye sight problems, looking emancipated or skinny, poor coat quality, hoof imbalance, deformed incisors, colic prone and ulcer ridden, bad attitude, head shaking and behavior changes.
Neck stiffness (flexing), trouble with leads, holds head crooked, ribs won’t “bend, grinds teeth, cribs, hyoid imbalance, TMJ tenderness, bad breath, won’t collect when ridden.
Drops feed, acts hungry constantly, trouble eating, uneven bite, hasn’t been floated within the last 2 years.
What a healthy mouth looks and moves like
(3 things you can check on your own horse):
No major pathology here. A balanced mouth will show an even bite of the front incisors, no sharp hook or edges, no over-bite or under-bite, no cuts or gum ulcers, and no tooth deformities. Even over several months passing proper wear will leave a balance mouth.
Are you helping or hindering how your horse's mouth works? think again...
The Dangers of Power Floating:
An equine has approximately 1/8th of an inch eruption a year, a drill can take off 1/16th of an inch (or more) annually during each visit. When the horse gets older he stops erupting (late teens and twenties). Power floats take off too much, too fast, too often.By grinding off 1/16th of an inch annually you may be shortening the horse's life span and ability to chew once he reaches his early twenties.Power tools affect TMJ negavitly centric relation.Heat from the friction of a power tool fractures keratin leaves enamel weakend and prone to problems like fractures in the tooth. Leaving the tooth open to infection and compromised integrity.
The Dangers of Convenience Feeding:
Teeth need constant movement and grinding at a slow consistent gradual pace, not 2 meals a day with no other options to chew in-between.Horses need to chew frequently to produce enough saliva to act as a digestibility aid in the gut. Lessened amount of saliva enable the gut to have too much acid build up and not enough food to digest.Colic and ulcers are often a result of stress. Not just emotional stress but the physical stress of not having enough to eat; frequently - to combat over production of stomach acid.
The Dangers of Training Aids:
If there is restriction in the mouth there is definitely restriction in the body. If a horse is not offering leads or lead changes freely, can't collect or flex in the poll easily then it is most likely NOT a training issue.Masking imbalance in the mouth with a tie down, martingale or brain chain is what most don't know they are doing. Before ever making a tack change to get a better result in training make ABSOLUTELY sure your horse is not protecting him self from pain.Drugging a horse to 'mask a training issue' like alley anticipation, head shaking, rate problems, or anxiety is also dangerous. There is a good chance that imbalance in the mouth is creating pain in the body, which your horse could be anticipating and relating to performance. Listen to your horse's behavioral feedback and don't chalk it up to him 'acting like a moron'.
And even if you are doing everything right...
Horse's innately adapt to fit the situation. Once you get the feet right, the saddle right, and the teeth right - you may be in for some MORE changes! Balance starts to take shape and the results are beautiful, but don't forget you need to accommodate the process. Watch this video here to learn from my story. Typically you only have to float every year or 18 months - Lucky needed an additional float a mere 4 months after the first balancing session.
For more resources and education please see the video and referral below:
So what should you do, now that you know how to help your horse?
Visit a Reputable Tooth Fairy
Colorado: Dr. Allen Landes
CO/TX/AZ/CA: Phil Ratliff
All other locations: Spencer LaFlure
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Straight from the horse's mouth, straight back in. At the very minimum, you find a dentist who looks at the WHOLE horse and the BIO-MECHANICS of the mouth, invest in a slow feeder, and keep learning I know you won't be disappointed. Wellness starts at the tip of your horse's nose!