Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Periodontal Disease

Synonyms: Gingivitis, Gum Disease

Periodontal disease (gingivitis or gum disease) is a very common problem in older horses and horses that are not on a regular dental program.

Periodontal pockets form in areas where feed material packs into gum tissue alongside the teeth, favoring bacterial growth and destroying gum tissue. The inflammation (reddening, swelling) of the gums that results is called gingivitis.

Dental overgrowths cause gum damage to the opposing gum tissues and spread opposing teeth, causing gaps between the opposing teeth (diastema) that allow packing of feed into pockets.

This condition tends to be painful, causing difficult chewing, bad breath, and can cause horses to drop feed. A vicious cycle develops causing pockets to deepen and signs to worsen.

This is an important and often overlooked disease causing painful and difficult chewing in horses.

Diagnosis requires careful oral exam with a good light source and often a mirror and other special equipment.

Treatment involves addressing the predisposing factors (dental overgrowths, diastema), removal of debris from the pockets and in some cases, temporary filling of the pockets with various materials.

Prognosis & Relevant Factors

The prognosis is fair to good with removal of overgrowths that are causing the gap between opposing teeth (diastema). In some cases, the shape of the diastema may need to be changed using special dental burrs.

Success depends upon the severity of dental imbalances and overgrowths present and the vet's ability to reduce these sufficiently to protect the gum tissue.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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