One of Alnorthumbria’s equine directors was invited to speak at the British Equine Veterinary Association annual congress.
Lesley Barwise-Munro, a past president of BEVA, was part of a morning of lectures on equine dentistry and was presenting the results of a study carried out by the equine vets in Alnorthumbria Veterinary Group.
Data was gathered from all routine dental examinations from a mixed breed, mixed age population, from 2008 to 2009.
The study was carried out in conjunction with Professor Paddy Dixon, from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh. It showed conclusively that the condition of cheek teeth diastema is highly prevalent.
Some 49.9 per cent of the 471 horses examined were found to have at least one diastema in their cheek teeth, which in practical terms is every second horse. The study also showed that the condition was more common with increasing age, but no breed differences were found.
Diastemata are abnormal gaps between the teeth allowing food to get trapped. The trapped food material decays causing gum infection.
In 43 per cent of all diastema, deep gingival pockets develop where rotting food is found below the gum level next to the tooth root and jaw bone. This is the most painful condition of a horse’s mouth. In the early stages, there may be no outward signs, but the pain will lead to dropping of food (quidding) and weight loss. Eventually, periodontal ligament damage and tooth loss can occur.
A thorough oral cavity examination by a vet or a qualified equine dental technician (EDT), where every tooth and every gap between the teeth is visualised with a head torch and dental mirror ensures early diagnosis. Feeling with the hand in a horse’s mouth is not good enough – diastemata will be missed!
Diastemata can also easily be missed in an uncooperative patient, so horse owners must appreciate the importance of allowing the vet to sedate their horse/pony/donkey if needed, in order to make sure your horse is not left with untreated diastemata. The small extra cost incurred for sedation will enable early diagnosis and treatment for this condition.
None of the treatment for diastemata is invasive and as the drugs used have short competition withdrawal times, training and competition schedules need not be disrupted.
Performance horses have a rigorous training programme which already predisposes them to equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS). A painful, chronically-infected mouth will discourage eating and exacerbate the risk of EGUS further. It is inevitable that early detection and treatment of diastemata will enhance performance and equine welfare.