Horse Head Tossing and Teeth

Q. I have an 8-year-old Arab/Quarter Horse-cross mare. She is in great health and has her teeth done by a certified equine dentist yearly. When we ride her, she throws her head up repeatedly. She doesn't try to grab the bit, but just throws her head up almost to the point that you could get hit with her head. I don't want to put a tie-down on her, because that doesn't solve the problem. What suggestions do you have?

A. First of all, I need to dispel this common myth regarding people who advertise themselves as “certified equine dentists.” The only person that can be called a “dentist” is one whom has graduated from a human school of dentistry with a “DDS or DMD," or a veterinarian (DVM) who is board certified in dentistry by the American Veterinary Dental College. Anyone else, particularly lay people who advertise themselves as such, are impersonating a dentist, who is actually a graduated, educated medical professional.

The biggest problem I’ve encountered with the lay community who make a living floating horse teeth is that some tend to treat all horse mouths the same without regard for the function of the teeth within the stomatognathic (relating to the jaw and mouth) system of the individual horse. Some of these folks tend to take too much tooth structure off and, particularly in a young horse such as yours, this can be a huge problem. The vital pulp tissue of young horse teeth is easily damaged, which can lead to dead, painful, and chronically infected teeth, or stomatognathic system dysfunction due to overly aggressive or improper odontoplasty (removal of tooth structure).

Without a complete physical examination—including ophthalmic (eyes), otoscopic (ears), neurologic, and musculoskeletal exams—of your horse by an experienced veterinarian, as well as a complete oral exam under sedation with a full-mouth speculum, mirror, and dental probes, I cannot venture a guess as to the reason for your mare’s head-tossing problem, as the cause can originate from any of a number of body systems.

Hopefully the cause for the head-tossing can be diagnosed and treated before someone accidentally gets hurt. Please make an appointment with an experienced equine veterinarian and let us know what you find out.

About the Author

Lynn A. Caldwell, DVM

Lynn Caldwell, DVM, a 1993 graduate of Purdue’s College of Veterinary Medicine, owns Silverton Equine Veterinary Services in Silverton, Oregon. Her professional focus is equine dentistry, and she's served on the American Associate of Equine Practitioners’ Equine Dentistry Committee as a member and chairperson. She frequently speaks on the subject of equine dental care.

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