Dentistry Part 4: Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease is one of the most painful conditions that can occur in the horse’s mouth. The number one cause of premature tooth loss in adult horses (as in adult people) is periodontal disease. Periodontal disease can affect incisors, canine
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At last! The day’s work is done and you are free to enjoy some time with your horse. There is a spring in your step as you gather up your barn gear. You slice a crisp red apple for your pal and suddenly realize that in your rush to get to the barn you forgot to eat lunch! Your buddy won’t mind, surely, if you share a bit of his apple. Just as you thought … it’s delicious! But oh no! A chunk of apple has lodged itself between two of your teeth, right at the gum line–Yeowch! All the way to the barn you work away with your tongue at what feels like the entire piece of apple that you ate, but it remains stubbornly embedded in a most uncomfortable place. Once at the barn you rifle through your brush box for what you hope is still buried there. Yeah! The roll of dental floss used to repair something or other … and bingo! You dislodge the offending fruit (not the size of a chicken wing, as it turns out) and feel immediate relief.

Now picture your horse’s teeth. If you have ever been lucky enough to get a good look into a horse’s mouth, you were impressed, at the least, and more likely in awe. As you know from the first articles in this series, adult horses have anywhere from 36 to 44 teeth, depending on gender and the presence or absence of wolf teeth. Of those, 24 teeth are premolars and molars, collectively known as "cheek teeth." They, along with the incisors (those teeth readily seen as your horse yawns, grabs treats, or–heaven forbid–cribs), make up those teeth involved in the gathering and processing of feed. And let’s face it, although we would like to think that our horses spend most of their days pining away for us, the truth of the matter is that they will, if given free access, spend up to 16 hours per day grazing.

Now remember your bit of apple. Imagine having to go on eating without first removing something caught between your teeth. You would begin to alter how you chewed to avoid the painful spot. Your gum would become inflamed and bleed easily. More food would be packed into this vulnerable area and calculus (a calcium salt concretion) would begin to form on the surrounding teeth. You get the idea.

It is not as though your horse can floss, show you that he is packing feed between his teeth, or eat soup for a few days until the dentist can see him. He must continue to eat hay, grass, grain, etc., and do his best in the face of any dental pain

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