A “fat” horse with teeth problems!
I have a working theory about some “fat” horses and their “bad” teeth...read on if you would like to explore these insights with me!
This gelding is showing off his body condition score of 7 out of 10, which means he is overweight—note the little bit of extra fat along the top of his neck, called a “crest”. Very often, these horses will have some degree of laminitis affecting their feet due to this situation.
He is “always hungry” and hangs out at the feeders, nibbling away eagerly as long as there is food available. He will wander off only occasionally, usually to get a drink or lick some salt. He doesn't want to play, and he aggressively defends his spot at the feeder.
His teeth had not been checked in three years, because “he sure doesn’t have any trouble eating! He stays fat all the time!”
This front view of his incisors “looks pretty good”, but there’s something serious going on here that isn’t immediately evident!
This is what his teeth looked like upon movement of his jaw to one side. We call this “lateral excursion” and we check this movement to get a feeling for whether the chewing teeth in back are coming together to grind food, called “occlusion”.
Note in both right and left movement of his jaw, there is no space showing up between the front teeth. This tells me he has very poor occlusion with his chewing teeth, and excessive occlusion with his incisors. His TMJ’s (TemporoMandibular Joints) will also very likely be under compressive stress, which doesn’t bode well for a good attitude. I go in to detail about how this works in my book.
How come he is so fat if he isn’t able to chew up his food very well? Shouldn’t he be skinny? My feeling is many of these domestic animals get more of the sugars out of their diet and less of the protein. This leads to deposition of fat, and also leaves the horse feeling “unsatisfied” like there just isn’t enough food in the world (not satiated). This is why they are always looking for more! Their system is starved for protein, their gut is likely upset due to poor digestion from poorly chewed feed and their metabolism is on a roller coaster of up and down insulin levels.
I feel the absolute most important part of dentistry for a horse like this is incisor balancing. This kind of dental situation is epidemic, because domestic horses very often don’t have access to grazing tough grass and other forage which would keep their incisors balanced and in shape. Of course there are other issues to consider, but this is a scenario that is very common.
After reducing the incisor length and angle of occlusion little by little, (3mm total), I was able to achieve some occlusion with the back teeth. Taking any amount of chewing tooth mass down before addressing these front teeth will make this issue worse. So often, horses only get their back teeth “floated” and this doesn’t help them with their digestion, metabolism, or depressed attitude.
Once I have some occlusion, as demonstrated by separation of the incisors on lateral excursion of the jaw, I carefully address sharp enamel points, transverse ridging and any other issues. Placing grass hay inside a hay net is an important follow up recommendation when no grazing is available, as it invites the horse to actually use their incisors instead of just picking the hay up with their lips.
Once a horse like this is chewing food better and with satisfaction, their entire world changes. They often have time to play, will be much friendlier and move their entire body more fluidly, due to less TMJ pain and free jaw movement. Their improved digestion and nutrient absorption also helps them lose fat and gain muscle with an exercise program.
For lots of pictures and in-depth discussion of equine dentistry and MANY other topics from a holistic perspective, please consider ordering my book, Insight to Equus...I will send it to you anywhere on planet Earth!