Equis ISSN 2398-2977

Behavior: bruxism

Synonym(s): Teeth grinding

Contributor(s): Daniel Mills, Natalie Waran

Introduction

  • Bruxism, also known as teeth grinding, is the medical term given to describe the rhythmical movement (side to side) of the molars causing a grinding, crunching or scraping sound.
  • Cause: teeth grinding may occur only occasionally associated with certain situations, or may become almost continuous and be an established part of the horses behavioral repertoire.
  • Signs: teeth grinding, increased salivation, colic, weight loss, restlesness.
  • Diagnosis: history and clinical signs.
  • Treatment: depends on underlying cause.
  • Prognosis: often good if cause can be relieved.
Print off the Owner factsheet on Bruxism to give to your clients.

Pathogenesis

Etiology

  • Bruxism is frequently an indicator of a painful condition or possibly anxiety in both foals and adult horses.
  • Bruxism can also become a learned habit as a result of inadvertent owner reinforcement, in the form of attention, (usually verbal reprimanding) in response to the behavior. Such a diagnosis should be established from exclusion rather than assumed at the outset, given the association with pain.
  • In foals, bruxism is often associated with the occurrence of gastric ulcers   Stomach: gastric ulceration - foal  , considered to be related to early or sudden weaning and the feeding of concentrates.
  • In adult horses, repetitive teeth grinding is often observed in horses experiencing local pain, and often once the painful condition has been dealt with, the horse stops the behavior. 
  • Similar to foals, bruxism has been recorded in horses with gastric ulcers   Stomach: gastric ulceration  . 
  • Bruxism is also observed in horses suffering from certain neurological conditions. 
  • It also associated with many other conditions from dental pain, through to lead poisoning   Toxicity: lead  .
  • Teeth grinding is also seen in horses who are experiencing pain associated with being ridden - in this case the cause may be due to the training methods, the equipment or the riders behavior.

Pathophysiology

  • Possible molar damage associated with the performance of the behavior.

Timecourse

  • Dependent upon the cause.
  • If it is pain related, onset may be sudden. 
  • If it is a learned habit, the behavior may increase in frequency and duration over a considerable timecourse.

Epidemiology

  • Seen in young horses and older horses, and in most countries where horses are weaned and fed concentrates and likely to develop gastric ulcers. 
  • Also seen where horses are trained and ridden or in motivational conflict.

Diagnosis

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Treatment

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Prevention

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Outcomes

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Visser K et al (2009) A comparison of sympathetic and conventional training methods on responses to initial horse training. Vet J 181 (1), 48-52 PubMed.
  • Cook W R (2003) Bit-induced pain: a cause of fear, flight, fight and facial neuralgia in the horse. Pferdeheilkunde 19 (1), 75-82 VetMedResource.

Organization(s)

  • The International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) A non-profit organization, with the primary function of facilitating research into the training and welfare of horses. Website: www.equitationscience.com.


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