Periodontal Disease in Horses

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 (UGa), Illinois, and California (Davis) are working with the equipment developer and dental equipment companies to study the benefits of tooth cleaning and restoration in horses.

Periodontal disease--which includes gingival (gum) inflammation and/or recession, foul odor, tartar buildup, and decay--often leads to tooth loss. The frustration with not having a tool to remove feed and debris lodged between and in horse's teeth fostered the development of the Equine Dental System for horses. Tony Basil of Pacific Equine Dental Institute, developer of the device, has provided the units to the universities for the studies.

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, 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 (air abrasion). If there is some tartar and plaque, you can see it come off like sandblasting a building."

In more severe cases, large pockets in the gums around teeth can form--some as deep as 0.8 inches (20 mm). In these cases, the pockets are cleaned and filled with a 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 pockets. When it hits moisture, it hardens, and the body slowly receives a dose of antibiotics. Typically, after two or three treatments, the problem is resolved, and the nearby tooth is saved.

Michael Lowder, DVM, MS, of UGa, said that students are learning to use the device and Doxi-robe, and that UGa offered a dentistry elective in November that incorporated the treatment. He said that after about six months, universities will accumulate and interpret data. If there is enough proven benefit and interest, Pharmacia might make Doxi-robe for horses (in larger doses tailored with appropriate antibiotics for horses).

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

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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