Only professionals with specific training and experience in equine dentistry should assess the masticatory system and equilibrate dentition, Moine cautioned.
Performance dentistry refers to equine dental care that gives horses a more balanced mouth, with better tooth alignment, in addition to basic dental care. The idea is it makes the equine athlete perform better and easier to ride—a concept known as “rideability.”
For years, some professionals have claimed they see a marked improvement in rideability after performance dentistry. But science has yet to confirm this theory. That’s why Swiss researchers set out to test performance dentistry’s effects on the rideability of their country’s national stud horses.
To their surprise, they found no link between performance dentistry and rideability, said Sébastien Moine, MedVet, of the Swiss Institute of Equine Medicine Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at the University of Bern and Agroscope, both in Bern.
However, this could be because it’s still very difficult to evaluate rideability on an objective scale, he said. “To date, science has not provided a repeatable and effective way to measure rideability,” Moine said. “Anecdotal information from many decorated riders and trainers strongly supports effective equilibration of dental arcades by experienced practitioners.”
In their study, Moine and his fellow researchers worked with 38 Franches-Montagne stallions from the Haras National Suisse. They evaluated and scored (see scoring system below) each horse’s dental status and then assigned them to either the performance dental treatment or no dental treatment group. With no dental treatment, the horses still received preparation for dental care with mouth blocking and sometimes sedation, but received no treatments. Performance treatment included correction of overgrowths and sharp enamel points, rostral profiling (for added comfort when carrying a bit), removal of wolf and deciduous (baby) teeth if necessary, and buffing of canine teeth. Using a cheek retractor, the dentist then checked the teeth’s side alignment and, if necessary, corrected the incisor table angles, relieved malocclusions (bite misalignments), and removed incisors to improve occlusion (the bite).
A single professional Grand Prix dressage rider rode all the horses before and after evaluation and treatment (or no treatment). He rode each horse twice in the five days before treatment (or no treatment) and three times over a two-month period afterward. The rider never knew which horses had received treatment and which had not.
The rider evaluated the horses’ rideability using a 27-point questionnaire (see sidebar at left) about his impressions of each horse under saddle, each time he rode.
Moine’s group found no correlation between original dental score and rideability before treatment. They also found no differences between treated and untreated horses after treatment. The amount of time within the two-month period after treatment also appeared to have no effect on rideability scoring, he said.
But this doesn’t mean riders shouldn’t have performance dentistry carried out on their horses, Moine said. Given many riders’ convincing opinions, it’s possible that this study just didn’t reveal the true differences. That could be because the rideability scoring system is insufficient or that they should have continued to evaluate the rideability over a period longer than two months.
And regardless of rideability, dentistry—including balanced alignment of the teeth and jaws—is good for horse health and welfare, he added.
“Many scientific studies show that effective equilibration of dental arcades is beneficial to horses’ health, longevity, and general well-being,” Moine said. “Furthermore, this is well-documented and supported by years of anecdotal information. Correct equilibration of the masticatory (chewing) system will provide improved oral health and comfort for all horses.”
Only professionals with specific training and experience in equine dentistry should assess the masticatory system and equilibrate dentition, Moine cautioned. “Equine dentistry and effective equilibration of dental arcades must be learned and developed over time and not from just a two-day short course or from reading scientific studies or other texts,” he said.
The study, “Evaluation of the effects of performance dentistry on equine rideability: a randomized, blinded, controlled trial,” was published in Veterinary Quarterly.
Scoring system used to evaluate rideability, translated from French. A lower score indicates better rideability. Does the horse accept contact with the hand easily? Walk No (1) Yes (0) Trot No (1) Yes (0) Canter No (1) Yes (0) Does the horse have consistent contact? No (1) Yes (0) Does the horse move behind the bit? Walk Yes (1) No (0) Trot Yes (1) No (0) Canter Yes (1) No (0) Consistent contact Yes (1) No (0) Does the horse pull in front of the bit? Walk Yes (1) No (0) Trot Yes (1) No (0) Canter Yes (1) No (0) Consistent contact Yes (1) No (0) Does the horse tilt its head while ridden? Yes (1) No (0) Does the horse grind its teeth? Yes (1) No (0) Does the horse lock its mouth? Yes (1) No (0) Does the horse have difficulty bending to the left? Walk Yes (1) No (0) Trot Yes (1) No (0) Canter Yes (1) No (0) Does the horse have difficulty bending to the right? Walk Yes (1) No (0) Trot Yes (1) No (0) Canter Yes (1) No (0) Is the horse relaxed on the bit? No (1) Yes (0) Does the horse have consistent contact between hand and mouth? No (1) Yes (0) Does the horse easily move over the back onto the hand? No (1) Yes (0) Does the horse move forward through the hand well? Walk No (1) Yes (0) Trot No (1) Yes (0) Canter No (1) Yes (0) Maximum score: 27
Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor’s in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.