Cribbing and Dental Wear
If you’ve been around the horse world long enough then you are probably familiar with cribbing, an undesirable, compulsory behavior. Though there are varying degrees of the behavior, it generally involves the horse using her front teeth (incisors) to grip onto surfaces such as stall doors, fences, etc and then arching her neck to suck in air. While the practice reportedly causes a release of endorphins to give the horse a feeling of pleasure, it can also be linked to colic, stomach ulcers, and dental wear.
The amount of abnormal dental wear that a cribber possesses is highly variable depending on the surfaces used, aggressiveness of cribbing, and length of time that the horse has been cribbing. However, an experienced equine dentist can almost always identify a cribber just by opening the lips and examining the incisors.
My experience has been that heaviest wear will most often occur on the upper incisors, starting in the center and moving outwards. Depending on the horse’s movements while cribbing, the bottom incisors are also affected, but generally less heavily. Surprisingly, the cheek teeth (premolars/molars) are often hardly affected by cribbing, with the exception of extreme cases when the incisors are worn down to the point they are causing an overbite or underbite. Uneven bites like these will cause the jaw to be misaligned from front to back, and cheek teeth will wear accordingly, but generally these issues are correctable.
In summary, cribbing is not only a nuisance, but an unhealthy habit that should be stopped whenever possible. While it can cause unflattering cosmetic changes to the incisors, it generally does not affect eating habits, and routine dental care can usually resolve any unusual cheek teeth wear that has occurred. Prevention of further cribbing is the best course of action, but this article will not breach that subject.
Michael Marshall, DVM