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Chewing Problems in Horses: Consider TMJ IssuesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · July 10, 2017

When faced with chewing problems in horses, what do owners do? More likely than not, they will scroll through their contacts in search of the equine dentist or veterinarian. Are there sharp hooks and points? Loose or missing teeth? An abscess? Few horse owners would consider irregularities of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).

Abnormalities within the oral cavity, such as dental malocclusions characterized by misaligned teeth, may cause abnormal forces to be placed on the TMJ, triggering inflammation and degeneration. In addition to the potential discomfort caused by the primary abnormality, the problem could be compounded by TMJ pain.

“This scenario is similar to a horse with poor limb conformation. With increased training and increased abnormal forces on certain joints, lameness can occur,” explained Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., an advisor for Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

“Clearly, both oral care provided by an appropriately trained professional in equine dentistry and joint care provided by your primary equine practitioner should to considered when horses appear to be having difficulty chewing,” noted Whitehouse.

General signs of dental problems include dropping feed while chewing, which should be differentiated from bolting or feed-slinging; a gradual slowing of feed consumption in which meals take longer than normal to finish; and head-tilting or other unusual head positioning during chewing. “An annual dental checkup with necessary attention to problems will help keep the entire mouth and jaw in working order,” said Whitehouse.

KER offers several joint supplements that could help protect your horse’s TMJ. Consider KER•Flex with glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, Synovate HA with high molecular weight hyaluronic acid, and EO•3 containing marine-derived fish oils. Australian horse owners should also look for Glucos-A-Flex.

“While these products will support joint health at any point in a horse’s life, using joint supplements early in life helps ensure lasting skeletal health,” Whitehouse advised.

*Carmalt, J.L., H. Simhofer, A. Bienert-Zeit, et al. The association between oral examination findings and computed tomographic appearance of the equine temporomandibular joint. Equine Veterinary Journal. In press.