Having a Balanced Mouth Is A Critical Component For Horse Health

This is a complex topic and I will only scratch the surface here which will hopefully peak your interest for further investigation.

Achieving balance in the horse’s mouth is as important to their overall health as achieving balance in the feet.  When a horse has a correctly balanced mouth and correctly balanced and healthy feet, the skeleton can achieve and maintain balance.  Maintaining skeletal balance is not possible if the mouth and/or feet are out of balance.

Balance in the horse’s mouth affects the health of the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ.  This is the joint where the jaw hinges to the skull.  The health of this joint is important as this is a highly innervated area.  The nerves and proprioceptors around the TMJ affect the horse’s entire body in many ways. Proprioceptors are sensory receptors that provide information about where the body and limbs are located in space.  They are key to movement.

If there is imbalance in the horse’s mouth, be it with the molars and/or the incisors, movement of the jaw will be restricted.  This may be restriction front to back, side to side or both.   The horse chews in a figure eight pattern.  Anything which restricts the movement of the jaw will restrict this chewing motion.  This restriction transfers throughout the horse’s body.  This may impact not only the horse’s nutrition but also his entire body and way of traveling.

If the incisors, the teeth in the front of the horse’s mouth, are not balanced first, it is not possible to balance the molars, the teeth in the back of the mouth.  Without this progression of balance from front to back, there may be instability in the TMJ which can cause physical issues throughout the horse’s body.  The length and angle of the incisors correlate to the TMJ.

Nutritional issues, postural changes, lack of flexion at the poll and a host of behavioral issues may all be affected by an imbalance in the horse’s mouth.

Horse’s teeth have approximately 4 inches of crown to erupt throughout their life.  After that, there is no more tooth to erupt and any remaining crown is what the horse is left with for the remainder of their life.  This is one reason it is important the teeth are managed appropriately and not mismanaged or treated too aggressively.  Once the tooth material is gone, there is no getting it back.  I have seen horses in their early 20s with basically no teeth left.  Some of these horses are no longer able to grind forage and are only able to eat mashes or soaked hay.  Horses are capable of living well into their late 20s, 30s and sometimes beyond.  Longevity with quality of life can only happen well if their teeth are properly cared for.  Teeth serve the horse not only for eating, but for bringing stability to the TMJ and therefore, the body of the horse.

Some Things You May Wish To Consider Regarding Your Horse’s Dental Care:

The incisors must be balanced before the molar arcade can be correctly balanced.

The mouth can only be balanced with the head held low in the position the horse grazes in naturally.

Your dentist should check the lateral movement of the jaw and the forward to back movement as the horse chews in a figure eight pattern, utilizing each of these directions.  Forward and back movement of the jaw is as important as side to side.

The heat and vibration of power tools in a horse’s mouth may have adverse effects on both the bone and enamel of the teeth. Use of manual floats may prevent damage from heat and vibration.  Also, it is nearly, if not entirely, impossible to accurately balance the last molar using power tools without damaging the soft tissue in the back of the mouth. I have seen many horses where the molars were all addressed except the last molar was left standing much higher than the others which caused numerous issues for the horse.

If your horse has a correctly balanced mouth as well as balanced feet, the mouth often will maintain this balance for 1-2 years without any further dental work.

Dental issues in the horse’s mouth,  TMJ and/or head pain may be the source of behavioral issues people see.

If you feed hay using slow feed hay nets, use nets with soft netting to prevent excessive wear to the teeth.

In the attached picture, observe the wave in the molar arcade.  This will prevent the jaw from freely moving forward with the horse’s head low or back with the horse’s head high.

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Additional resource:  http://www.advancedwholehorsedentistry.com/natural-balance-dentistry/research/