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Does Your Horse Have Gum Disease?
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Does Your Horse Have Gum Disease?

Most horse owners are aware of the need to have their horse’s teeth checked regularly by an equine dental practitioner or their vet. As horses grow older their teeth can develop hooks and rough edges which if untreated can cause painful ulceration to the cheeks and tongue resulting in problems when ridden and in the horse being unable to chew its food properly. But did you know that horses can also suffer from gum disease and that this can be just as debilitating and problematic?

A recent veterinary report now highlights problems caused by periodontal disease which affects the base of the cheek teeth. Painful erosions of the surrounding gum tissue can result leading to pockets of infection where a rotting mass of chewed up food and saliva builds up. Sinusitis and tooth decay can result as well as problems with bitting and eating. One of the most common causes of periodontal disease is a gap between the large cheek teeth (diastema). These teeth should be packed tightly and closely aligned along the jaw but in some horses a gap develops that allows food to become trapped and impacted between the bases of the teeth, which causes gum disease.

The condition is relatively easy to treat. Packed in food can simply be removed with a pick and the gap then plugged using acrylic. A more radical approach is to actually increase the gapping by grinding the inside surfaces of the molar teeth using a motorised burr. This enlargement allows normal mouth and tongue function to keep the space free of food. Some vets and dental technicians have expressed concerns about the long term effects of this procedure but a recent study by vets at Edinburgh and Glasgow vet schools should serve to allay those fears.

The study involved monitoring 300 horses who had undergone the diastema widening procedure; some of these more than once. The results revealed that more than 70% of the cases showed complete resolution of the clinical signs they had exhibited prior to treatment when re-examined several months later. These problems included quidding, weight loss, problems with bitting and bad breath. The incidence of complications was also extremely low.

The conclusion drawn by the vets who conducted the survey is that diastema widening is safe provided it is undertaken by a qualified veterinary surgeon or experienced equine dental technician. The procedure may need to be repeated to achieve benefits in the longer term but overall, it is the treatment of choice so long as no other dental disease is present.


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  1. Eve Sherrill York
    Eve Sherrill York
    A lot goes into taking care of a horse. Voted.

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