by Fran Jurga | 5 August 2009 | The Jurga Report
One of the most interesting and rapidly growing sectors of veterinary medicine is the study of oral medicine and surgery. Equine dentistry is especially fascinating both because of the size and variety of the dental system of the horse and the massive jaw.
The fact that the teeth are always growing often confounds horse owners and is a basic reason why routine dental inspections and care are so important to horses: The mouth your horse had last year is simply not the same mouth he has today.
The new interest in all things dental has meant that universities are interested in doing research and that funding and senior researchers are now available, and academic journals are open to publishing scientific and practical information on the horse's mouth.
While veterinarians may be excited about their new power tools for doing dentistry work on your horses' mouth, they won't be using it on most horses unless there is a problem. The most important part of dental care is regular and thorough examination of the teeth.
A problem in horses is pulpitis, an inflammation in the tooth's root that can lead to serious tooth decay at the root. This is different from periodontitis, which is inflammation in the tissue surround the tooth. British research Miriam Casey conducted a study of teeth affected by pulpitits that has been accepted for publication. Her work provides veterinarian with another good reason to have a look inside your horse's mouth.
She found that it may be possible to intervene when a horse has pulpitis in the early stages, rather than to allow it to progress to the point of damaging the tooth to the point of needing extraction or causing the horse a lot of pain, even though the root of the tooth is not visible to the naked eye.
By examining the chewing surface of the extracted teeth diagnosed with pulpitis, Casey observed lesions in the dentine that a veterinarian would be able to see when examining the mouth with a light and mirror. The lesions were visible in 57 percent of both the lower and upper jaw teeth; no lesions were visible in the chewing surface of any control (normal) teeth.
Currently, radiography of the jaw is the only way to diagnose pulpitis if an infected tooth is suspected. This visual analysis guideline may be helpful for veterinarians. Casey is not prepared to speculate on the relationship between the defects in the dentine at the chewing surface and the inflammation within the tooth.
Click here to read more about Miriam Casey and her research project. The research was conducted at Bristol University and her funding is provided by The Horse Trust. The photo shown is courtesy of The Horse Trust.
I think we will be seeing lots more interesting research about horse teeth and oral health coming to the forefront in the next few years, and no doubt, eventually, a wave of new commercial products to improve oral hygiene in horses. If you think about it, the horse is perhaps the only animal that uses its mouth in its work and the loriner's art is surely the next to surge forward with the aid of technology and modern materials. But the horse needs a healthy mouth to begin, and the interesting research about how the horse uses its mouth and head for balance and breathing/eating/senses is still an area where new discoveries are being made. The horse's mouth may be one of its last frontiers!