Could your Equine Dentist be the Cause of your Horse’s Back Problems?

How equine dentistry affects performance and muscle development.

Is this why your horse lacks muscles over the back?

You may not know that although still practicing on a very limited basis, being an equine dental practitioner was my previous profession.  I had a thriving practice from 1998 until 2012 when I severely cut back on dental work to pursue other professional activities.  Over the years, I have seen a better awareness of the pros of regular dental care on horses.  However, I want to revisit the subject and how it relates to muscle development over the topline.

Years ago when I first got started, I was working with another female dentist in Virginia.  When we would arrive on the farm, we could look out in the pasture and pick out horses with hooks.  They had this quality about them.  An atrophy of the muscles in the top line, even if they were in regular work.  Despite dental problems causing weight problems and pain it also seemed to affect the carriage of their bodies.  Although there can be many reasons why a horse could have poor muscle development over their back, dental abnormalities can definitely be one of the causes.

Why?  Well, first lets describe what dental hooks are.  When the alignment of the upper arcades of teeth are rostral to the lower arcades then the first and last cheek teeth do not line up correctly.  Given that horses have a continual eruption of reserve crown over the life of their tooth, this can result in a protuberant tooth development in the areas that are not in occlusion.  Ok what does that all mean?  Basically the upper teeth are sitting forward of the lower teeth and the teeth not meeting up get too long.  At least, this is the most common presentation.

When charting this dental hook we would say the 206 had a hook.  Each tooth is numbered according to the location in the head (arcade and # of tooth).  Usually hooks are present on the 106, 206 (rostral hooks) and 311, 411 (caudal hooks).  In performing a routine dental exam and “floating” these hooks would be filed down to be in alignment with the rest of the arcade.

So what does this do to the horses mouth and jaw?  Besides being painful, inhibiting masticating and obstructing the flow of food this problem also locks the jaw from proper movement.  The horse not only chews from side to side but also has a anterior/posterior (front to back) movement to the jaw.  When else does this jaw move anteriorly and posteriorly?  Whenever the horse lowers or raises its head.

 

 

overbiteThe inability to correctly move the jaw can be exacerbated if the horse also has an overbite and it’s incisors have become over long.

Which brings me back to muscle development.  If the horse cannot lower it’s head properly to bring the back muscles up then how can it develop top line muscle?  If the horse cannot relax the lower jaw (mandible) and let it move freely, there will be tension in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), subsequent tension in the poll and neck and, of course, tension in the topline and hindend respectively.  See why we could pick them out of the herd?

How does this relate to bodywork?  Whenever I discover pain, tension or sensitivity in the top line, mandible, TMJ or poll, it’s a reminder to me to check the horses teeth.  There could very well be a structural misaligment of the teeth that is causing the issues.  It’s one of the many things to cross off the list when trying to get to the bottom of a symptom.  Have a good, certified equine dentist check your horse at least once a year just to be sure.

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