Currently, students from around the world share their experience and research with Spencer LaFlure’s school for Natural Balance Dentistry™ on a regular basis, so our understanding of equine dentistry and dental balance as it relates to the whole horse is in constant development and progression. These students of the horse and certified Natural Balance Neuromuscular Dentists include equine osteopaths, veterinarians, competitive performance riders, trimmers, farriers and bodyworkers. We are a small group of about 40 currently certified practitioners in the world, sharing our work and experiences continually with each other for the ultimate goal of improving what we can offer to help the horse. This understanding and practice is absolutely beneficial to all horses, and over the years we have been very successful helping horses improve, oftentimes dramatically, with the following issues:
- Posture, and the ability to develop and maintain topline
- Balance, movement, and the continual ability to stay sound
- Balance in the feet, and overall hoof health
- Sacral and hind end biomechanics; ability to tilt the pelvis and “come under” behind
- Lateral range of motion in the whole body
- Proprioception – understanding and awareness of the body and limbs in space, including foot placement
- More easily accessed and maintained relaxation and softness in the jaw, poll and whole body, leading to improved comfort and focus during life and work
- Improved dorso-ventral and lateral flexion of the poll, neck, spine, and body
- Better and more lasting results from osteopathy, chiropractic, massage, and bodywork sessions
- Correct alignment of the head, poll and neck during eating, life, and work
- Ability to chew, produce saliva and enzymes, and digest food correctly
- Straightness and suppleness through the spine and body
- Decreased behavioral issues involving acceptance of the bit and bridle
- Improved hormonal balance
- Improved geriatric body condition
Spencer LaFlure developed the practice of Natural Balance Dentistry™ about twenty years ago, followed closely by the establishment of his learning center and school. He was enrolled in the Academy of Equine Dentistry in Glenns Ferry, Idaho and observed hundreds of skulls that were preserved before the practice of powerfloating and what is today’s version of veterinary and equine dentistry. He reached the ultimate conclusion that pathologies in the mouth are a result (not the cause) of overall imbalance, and that there is a better way to help the whole horse. Spencer developed the understanding that there is a three point balance between the incisors, molars, and TMJ, which affects the whole horse, from head to tail and toes.
The balance of these three parts is interconnected and affects everything from posture and alignment of the spine, to overall muscular health of the whole body and balance and composition of the feet. The incisors offer guidance for the temporal mandibular joint, and the pattern of wear in the molars is simply the expression of the balance and rotation occurring in the TMJ. As the horse chews, the jaw rotates through a range of motion and the molar tables slide across each other grinding the food. This sliding and grinding process stimulates the periodontal ligaments in each tooth, which causes eruption of the teeth. The tongue rotates during this process as well, suspended from the hyoid apparatus, which is a very delicate set of bones directly connected and suspended from both sides of the TMJs.
Both the balance and texture of the teeth are critical to the correct and healthy function of the TMJ, the whole mouth which is the first step in the digestive system, and the whole body. The TMJ has nine cranial nerves and twelve meridians that run through or around it, and because of its close proximity and interaction with the brain and spinal cord the balance here is highly influential to the wellness of the entire body. Additionally, the texture in the molar tables is what causes vibration when the teeth have contact with each other, and the vibration stimulates the periodontal ligaments in each tooth. Periodontal ligaments connect directly to the trigeminal nerve, and the neurological system for the whole body.
So the articulate and delicate balance of the teeth is important to the balance and function of the TMJ which affects the whole body, but additionally, the texture in the occlusal surfaces of the teeth is critical to the neurological and neuromuscular health of the whole horse. This is why floating the sharp points off without careful consideration for the individual’s anatomy, or floating the whole mouth with power instruments that change the surface texture and composition of the teeth, is not beneficial to the horse. There is a very specific texture that is natural and important to preserve in both the molar arcades and the incisors. Also, making straight lines to please the human eye is not in alignment with the natural and dynamic angles and curves of a horse’s mouth.
It is also important to understand briefly the hyoid, from which the tongue is suspended in the mouth. As the horse chews, the tongue rotates in the mouth to form a bolus composed of the food material and saliva which contains enzymes to aid in digestion. The hyoid apparatus is suspended from the TMJ, and so an imbalance in the TMJ contributes directly to hyoid imbalance, which can then be perpetuated by restricted range of motion and unbalanced rotation of the tongue. Or, if the teeth are causing a restricted rotation of the TMJ, the horse may compensate during chewing with an unnatural rotation of the tongue, causing tension and inflammation in the hyoid area and the TMJ. When the hyoid is not functioning optimally and there is tension in the TMJ and surrounding areas, additional pressure on the tongue as often occurs with use of a bit, can cause the horse to become reactive and additionally inflamed in the TMJ area and entire body.
The hyoid has direct and multifaceted connection to both front limbs and tension in the connective tissues affects relaxation and range of motion in the poll, neck, shoulders and whole body. The TMJ and hyoid are large components of the stomatognathic system, which includes everything from the withers forward and governs the posture and balance for the entire body. Because of its proximity and close interaction with the poll and cranium the balance of the TMJ also has a large impact on craniosacral wellness, affecting greatly the balance and movement of the hind end.
With the use of ergonomically designed instruments a neuromuscular dentist will help the horse find correct anatomical alignment and stability in the incisors, molars and temporomandibular joint. We work to maximize surface to surface contact of the teeth, taking into account eruption and wear rates, and restoring anatomically correct inclination of the molar tables to the individual horse. This creates a positive cycle in which less work will need to be done over time to maintain the balance and health of the horse. The horse will be standing in a relaxed natural stature during the work, allowing for continuous feedback, gradual acclimation, and less stress on the TMJ and body.
The eruption rate of teeth decreases as the horse ages, which is critical to acknowledge when working with older horses, in order to promote optimal natural function and prevent irreparable imbalances in the mouth and body, that can be caused by inappropriate floating in the geriatric horse. The bones of the TMJ will morph according to its rotation pattern over time, and so an older horse with imbalances may benefit most from regular and appropriate bodywork that addresses release of the TMJ, hyoid, poll and whole body.
To learn more about Spencer LaFlure’s school for Natural Balance Dentistry™, visit: http://www.neuromuscularhorsedentistry.com
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