It seems that we can all understand how nature intended balance to be for the equine foot. As the horse roamed its domain, excess growth wore away naturally by herd movement across the terrain. This natural wear by lifestyle and environment is also true of the equine mouth; though perhaps it has been overlooked for quite some time. Out of sight, out of mind. The concept of “form to function, function to form” is well understood these days. What I am going to share with you in this article is not my opinion but rather that which seems to fit the horse naturally.
In its natural state, the horse would graze 14-18 hours a day on grasses with silica’s that wore or abraded the teeth in such a manner that the front teeth wore as they erupted. These incisors are the key to balance in the mouth. The length and inclination of the front teeth were meant to be equal in comparison to that of our domestic horses at around age 5 and should remain that way throughout the lifetime of the horse. It is at this point, beyond the age of 5, that the front teeth of our domestic horses exceed the appropriate length and inclination. Here is where you begin to get abnormal rotation of the TMJ (temporal mandibular joint); the joint where the jaw hinges to the skull. The rotation of this joint dictates the wear pattern of the molars. So the Point of Natural Balance Dentistry is to treat the cause, not the symptoms, by maintaining a natural length and inclination of the incisors FIRST. Further balancing of the molars cannot be accomplished without proper balance in the front of the mouth (incisors).
Incisors need to wear as they erupt throughout the life of the horse or stay the length and inclination of a five year old domestic horse. There is a mathematical equation which allows for a balanced mouth and not points or excessive edges as these are just symptoms of an imbalance.
Natural Balance Dentists use an instrument called a speculum to assist the horse in maintaining an open mouth to receive treatment. It looks very much like a headstall, with the exception of an adjustable mouthpiece that sits just inside the horse’s mouth with two metal plates for the incisors to rest on. These plates are level unto themselves, so as the horse opens its mouth, any imbalance in the incisors will then be shifted to the molars, appearing to be a deviation in the horse’s mouth originating there, because the TMJ has approximate 6-8mm of “play” in it. This is why it is so critical to start with the incisors first. The angle of the TMJ is the exact opposite angle of what is known as the molar table or Curve of Cameron (contacting surfaces of the upper and lower teeth). With all of these factors taken into consideration we have what amounts to anatomical balance, according to that individual horse.
Many of today’s “Equine Dentists” apply centric or centered alignment to the mouth; that is, applying a static “leveling” to incisors and molars, as a standard to every equine mouth they treat. This focus is common among dentists currently. This means the flush contact of upper and lower tooth-on-tooth surfaces. However, because of the adaptable nature of the equine tooth, eruption and occlusion is present in ALL horses even before dentistry is applied. A convenience bite is what horses have present already in their mouths when they show up at the dentist. It should then be up to the dentist to anatomically align the mouth, incisors and molar bite planes, so that it fits the individual to its optimal neurological function. A removal of points or sharp edges merely skews the Curve of Cameron.
We do acknowledge that a horse needs optimal molar table inclination to maintain a proper Curve of Cameron. But so called “Equine Dentists” and veterinarians focus on the removal of edges that will actually INVERT the Curve of Cameron (They confuse the Curve of Wilson, in humans, with the Curve of Cameron, in horses. It is completely opposite.)
This is a HUGE neurological mistake.
Curve of Cameron Curve of Wilson (in humans)
Natural Balance Dentists focus on equilibrating enamel folds thereby restoring proprioception, neuromuscular function, increasing Anterior/Posterior (A/P) guidance of the mandible by maximizing the surface-to-surface contact, centric relation and centric occlusion. This in turn improves body mass, mastication and neurological stimulus. They also leave as much texture as possible because they know that a horse needs this and good cutting edges on its molar arcades. This is vital for not only proper digestion but even more importantly for neuromuscular balance of the body through the TMJ.
They know that teeth are calcified nerves and they know that changing the bite planes for eating, by removing points, is detrimental to the horse. (Removing points, is what “Equine Dentists” and Vets do.) The changing of bite plane inclination can and will create imbalance in flight of appendages, body mass, proprioception as well as neuromuscular function of the horse.
The fact of the matter is that the focus should be on reestablishing anatomically correct bite plains and neurological function to the horse’s jaw. For eating, the tongue rotates in the opposite direction to that of the jaw. The combined efforts of the two are what move the food bolus from front to back. This being said, if the length and inclination of the incisors vary from what nature intended, it causes the jaw to rotate in a more vertical motion; up and down, rather than from side to side and inhibits proper movement of the food bolus.
You would think that losing 50% of the mechanical ability in a moving part would be rather disruptive; but because of the processed feeds and concentration rations we give our horses, we see very little difference in weight gain or loss. The real clue indicating the need to balance the equine mouth concerns the ability of travel and motion of the jaw. This is directly equal to the ability of dynamic motion of the horse’s entire body in all directions as well as top-line and total body mass.
So, how do we check for bio-mechanics of the jaw? Rather than pushing the closed jaw from one side to the other; which most people are familiar with, you can properly check the horse by cuing it to contract its own masseter muscles. This provides a demonstration of the true bio-mechanical range of the jaw. (Consider this: if the above mentioned technique worked, human dentists would use it on us to check the surface-to-surface contact of our teeth, rather than the traditional carbon paper and “bite” techniques.) The horse is cued by the dentist inserting fingers into the side of the mouth, initiating a chewing motion reflex response. All species of animals maintain a state of disclusion of teeth, or non-contact, while at rest or in activities other than eating. If the teeth were in contact while moving, it would cause damage to the surfaces of the teeth. So occlusion or mastication of food is only accomplished when the individual contracts its own masseter muscles that control the jaw.
The horse has proven that accomplishing balance is achieved by starting with the equilibration of the incisors FIRST. Generally a primary inclination of adjustment is necessary with incisors. IF there is a great deal of change to be made; this should be done gradually over time. After all, it took a long time to develop and will take a while to fix.
Power equipment does a great deal of damage to tooth composition and structure. It also negates the production of odontoblasts in the tooth. Odontoblasts create secondary dentin. Speaking of equipment; most equine dental instruments are not ergonomically designed to fit comfortably in the horse’s mouth, let alone help balance it. Spencer Lafleure has spent 3 years designing hand held instruments that ergonomically fit the horse as well as the practitioner. This lends itself to bloodless dentistry and less discomfort after the dentistry is performed.
Another popular thought in “Equine Dentistry” today is the rolling or rounding of the first molars or premolars, to produce what is called a “Bit Seat”. Over-modification of any mechanical part is generally fine, in theory, but blows up when you put it into practical application.
We have to step back a second to understand this. The horse is born with its first three premolars and has had them in-utero at about 10-14 weeks. This helps produce an anatomically correct TMJ; the molars are at that time in contact, although they have no real use until the horse is about 6-8 months old. In that time period, nature then establishes the appearance of another key balance point of the mouth, the incisors or front teeth. These teeth (incisors and premolars) are basically all that are present in the mouth until about age two, at which time the plates or sutures of the skull fuse together. We can therefore believe that, by this, nature dictates these teeth are of primary importance to balance the head as it develops. When a bit seat is performed on the tooth, it takes away most of the leading molar’s surface-to-surface contact. Removal of this contact from a cornerstone of the mouth creates lateral (side-to-side) instability of the TMJ. Amazingly, this shows up externally in a visual hollowing out of the horses’ flanks! When you don’t perform a bit seat (allowing for maximum surface-to-surface contact) we have found that there is a greater stability to the TMJ and performance is enhanced as well as the flank of hip being straight.
Natural balance in the mouth and the jaw’s ability to move forward, backward, left and right, up and down, is equal to the whole body’s ability to do the same. The jaw’s range of motion dictates the neck’s range of motion, which in turn dictates muscle mass in the rest of the body.
Spencer LaFlure wrote a thesis about 8 years ago (copies available (518) 623-9967) stating that whole horse restoration could be accomplished by whole mouth equilibration. The key starting point is addressing the incisors FIRST and proceeding from there to balancing the mouth in an anatomically correct way to fit each individual horse. For 8 years Spencer has been trying to disprove his own theory and as of yet there has not been one instance that this theory has not held up. The outcome is this: the least modification of Nature has generally been in the best interest of both man and beast.
We believe that dentistry is an integral part of the equation of the total balance available to our horses today. Owners should be aware that although there are many complementary fields of natural practitioners out there, they are NOT available to help your horses - laws in Manitoba (and most other if not all provinces and states) prohibit many layman professionals to do their job. Veterinarians have ensured that they are the only ones who can attend to your animal's "needs', even though they may not be experts in some of those areas, such as dentistry, chiropractic, etc. Owners must speak up to get these laws changed to people other than veterinarians who have been trained specifically in these areas can assist with the responsibility they have to their animals' care.
What the video and presentation below to get a better understanding of Natural Balanced Dentistry and its importance to the horse's overall health.