Performance dentistry is a relatively new field in equine medicine that has evolved from the dentistry of yesteryear with the increasing need for our horses to perform at their optimum and the trend to maximize the longevity of our companions.
In the past equine dentistry focused simply on the removal of the sharp edges known as dental points off of the sides of the grinding teeth, also known as the cheek teeth. This was primarily practiced on the outside of the upper grinding teeth and the inside of the lower grinding teeth. In addition to this, attention was given to the removal of the wolf teeth from the mouth of the horse. The wolf tooth is the first premolar, which is a vestigial tooth. This tooth typically has a very shallow root and can result in pain to the horse when it comes in contact with the bit. This leads to behavioral abnormalities, training and performance difficulties. Minimal attention was given to conditions such as malocclusions (misalignment of teeth), wave mouths (uneven teeth), missing teeth and abnormal incisor wear.
In the past few years more and more attention has been focused on complete dental care for the horse. From this has evolved the performance dentistry approach. This approach to the equine dentition was developed to improve mastication and lead to more efficient utilization of feedstuffs as well as improving the horse’s acceptance of tack, its headset and reducing overall pain and discomfort in the mouth and associated muscular structures ultimately leading to improved performance and allowing the horse to reach its athletic potential.
Areas addressed by performance dentistry include alignment and balanced wear of the incisors and cheek teeth, length of the canine teeth, bit seats and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disease, as well as removing all sharp points in the mouth. These procedures allow for less pain/discomfort to the horse and proper travel of the mandibular teeth (lower jaw) and maxillary teeth (upper jaw) against one another.
The following few paragraphs address performance dentistry as it relates to the various teeth and their respective problems.
INCISORS: In nature the horse would use its incisor teeth to rip and tear feed from the ground for mastication. Domesticated horses are not generally required to graze for their feed and as a result these teeth are not worn down as they should be. This causes excessive length of the incisors which ultimately effects the grinding teeth and how they
contact one another. Long incisors reduce the contact of the grinding teeth. Conditions that are seen with the incisors include under and over-bites, slanted-irregular and long
incisors, missing and broken incisors and retained deciduous (baby) teeth. With performance dentistry the incisors are taken down and balanced to the proper length and angle for optimum contact of both the incisors and grinding teeth. This allows for proper side to side and forward to back movement of the lower jaw as it relates to the upper jaw. This reduces locking of the motion of the jaw and stress on the TMJ. In the young horse, attention to the incisors can improve or eliminate slight under and over-bites and minimize future dental disorders of the teeth.
CANINE TEETH: The canine teeth were fighting teeth. In our horses they serve no real function and cause more potential harm then good. Excessive length of these teeth can lead to lacerations of the tongue and cheeks. In addition, problems can arise from the application of tack leading to behavioral problems when the bit is allowed to hit the canine teeth when placed or removed. These teeth are ground down close to the gum in performance dentistry to remove them from the overall equation.
WOLF TEETH: As in traditional dentistry these teeth are removed because of their lack of function and their tendency to cause pain in the mouth of the horse fit with a bit.
BIT SEATS: In performance dentistry the first grinding tooth, known as the second premolar (PM-2) is ground down to give it a tapered look on its front edge. The reason for this is simple. Horses were not designed to have metal bits in their mouths. When we place these bits in their mouths much of the soft tissue structures, such as portions of the lip, cheek and tongue are forced backwards and becomes trapped between the bit and PM-2. This causes discomfort and pain to the horse resulting in the horse fighting the bit, playing with the bit, having an abnormal or undesirable head set and resenting bit contact in the mouth. All of this leads to a horse that isn’t happy and thus not performing to his or her potential.
CHEEK TEETH: While performance dentistry addresses the same conditions that traditional dentistry does, it goes a step further. Not only are the points on the edges of the grinding teeth removed but conditions such as front (rostral) and rear (caudal) hooks, wave mouth conditions (which is a roller coaster appearance to the grinding teeth) and sheared mouth (a abnormal angle to the grinding teeth) are addressed and corrected. Attention to these conditions benefits the horse’s ability to masticate properly and reduce the development of TMJ disease.
As you can see, advances in equine dentistry have moved by leaps and bounds. While these procedures are not for every horse, we have found that more horses then we ever dreamed have benefited from some or all of the procedures described above. We have been amazed and thrilled by the positive feedback from our clients on the improved performance, attitude and weight gains they have seen following these procedures. If you have any questions regarding these procedures or wish to have your horse evaluated for performance dentistry please contact our office.