Periodontal Disease in Horses Becomes a Priority

University veterinary hospitals and private practitioners have begun to treat and prevent periodontal disease in horses with a new piece of dental equipment called the Equine Dental System. The Universities of Georgia, Illinois, and California (Davis) are working in partnership with the developer of the equipment, a pharmaceutical company, and a dental equipment company to study the benefits of tooth cleaning and restoration in horses. Several veterinarians with dental specialties have already adopted the new methods in their practices.

Until the past several years, most equine dentistry was limited to floating and extractions. Signs of periodontal disease creep up in many horses’ mouths as the teeth wear--including gingival (gum) inflammation and/or recession, foul odor, tartar buildup, and decay, often leading to extraction. The frustration with not having a tool to remove feed and debris lodged between and in the teeth bred the development of an air abrasion device called the Equine Dental Unit for horses. Tony Basil of Pacific Equine Dental Institute, developer of the device, has provided units to the universities for the studies, and he has made them available to veterinarians and dental technicians for purchase.

The device is powered by nitrogen and consists of a 10-inch hand piece with two openings on the end. One sprays a dental cleaning solution, the other a powder delivered at 150 pounds per square inch and driven by an inert gas. Bryan Umstead, DVM, a private practitioner who uses the device in Livermore, Calif., said, “The powder is a mixture of sodium bicarbonate to counteract the acidic environment around the teeth, and there’s a small amount of sand or silica that acts as little beads to blast the feed. If there is some tartar and plaque, you can see it come off like sandblasting a building.”

In more severe cases (a grading system has been developed), large pockets around teeth in the gums might have formed, waiting to trap more debris and promote decay—some as deep as 0.8 inches (20 mm). In those cases, the pockets are cleaned and filled with a flowable polymer called Doxi-robe, which has been furnished to the universities by Pharmacia. Doxi-robe was designed for canine use, and it is injected with a blunt needle into the space. When it hits moisture, it hardens, and the body slowly receives a dose of antibiotic. Typically, after two or three treatments, the problem is resolved, and the nearby tooth is saved.

“On the lower three grades of periodontal disease,” said Umstead, “cleaning is enough stimulation to heal. We probably only use (the Doxi-robe) on 20-25%.”

Got a horse with cavities? Fillings can be performed as well. Dental equipment company Henry Schein has donated composite for fillings, curing lights, lenses, and impression material.

Michael Lowder, DVM, MS, of the University of Georgia, said that in 1996, the school floated 49 horses’ teeth, and now they are performing more than 1,000 dental procedures a year.

“Every Tuesday is dental day—we do nothing but referral dentistry,” said Lowder. “Three or four students are watching, helping, and learning.”

The school was to have a dentistry elective offered to veterinary students in November, where they would learn to use the Equine Dental System. The American Association of Equine Practitioner’s Convention this month will feature a presentation on recognition and treatment of dental disease, and two air abrasion devices have been requested for use in that convention’s wet labs. The recent American Veterinary Dental Forum wet lab also utilized the device, and one has been requested for the North American Veterinary Conference to be held in January 2003.

Lowder says that after about six months, the universities will accumulate and interpret their data. If there is enough proven benefit and interest, Pharmacia might consider making a Doxi-robe for horses (in larger doses tailored with the correct amount of antibiotic for horses).

According to Lowder and Umstead, air abrasion treatment costs range from $25-$65, depending on the severity of the horse’s gingival recession. The horse must be sedated, and the implants run about $40 per dose. It might take one or two doses to get the space filled.

“You could get up to $140-150 (cost with Doxi-robe implants),” explained Umstead, “but still, when you think of the range of things, how much would you charge for an extraction? In the $200-$300 range.”

Umstead says that one of the greatest benefits of this new equipment is its ease of use. “Some of this dental equipment is a little bit intimidating. With the advent of some of these types of equipment, it’s much more user-friendly in a unisexual sense. You don’t have to be very physically strong to use it—anyone can use it.”


About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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