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Volume VII - The Importance of Proper Equine Dentistry

Volume VII

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The Importance of Proper Equine Dentistry, by Diane Febles, DVM

Malocclusion, proprioception, posture, pain. All of these words have something in common - conditions which affect the health and well being of the horse that are related to his teeth. A malocclusion is an abnormality in the growth pattern of his teeth that affects his ability to eat, ride, and even walk pain free. Proprioception is the ability of a horse to know where his feet and head are - when moving or standing. Posture is the ability to stand against gravity. Pain -  well, we all know what that is!

The TMJ - or temporo-mandibular joint - is the joint under the ear, which allows the lower jaw (mandible) to move in relation to the head and upper jaw (maxilla). Through this space passes 80% of all the nerves responsible for proprioception. When there is a problem with this joint space, it will affect the whole horse - the head and neck carriage, flexion, the ability to round the back, and the use of the pelvis. When his posture is negatively affected, the horse will not ride to his potential, and pain will ensue.

The lower jaw is the moveable portion of the head. When the head/neck is flexed, the lower jaw slides forward. This happens in us as well, but because of the length of the horse's head, it is much more exaggerated in the horse. When there are abnormalities in the teeth - i.e., hooks, an overbite, an overlong molar, etc. - it will prevent the mandible from sliding forward. This creates tension/pain in the poll, and will cause abnormalities and pain in the TMJ. These abnormalities will radiate through the neck, back, and finally into the pelvis. It is most commonly seen that a horse with pain in the left TMJ and poll will be 'out' in his right pelvis, and vice-versa. This will affect his ability to bend and flex while being ridden.

Proper dentistry involves not only eliminating the painful sharp edges of the teeth (called points), but also equilibrating the molar and incisor arcades. This frees up the mandible to move, improving his ability to eat and ride. Proper 'floating' (performed by a veterinarian specially trained in equine dentistry) helps to correct abnormalities and preserve the teeth for the horse. Once the dental abnormalities are corrected, the chiropractic adjustments can then be much more effective, and the whole horse can start functioning properly.

Diane Febles, DVM


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