The horse has approximately 36 adult (“permanent”) teeth which erupt continuously throughout their lives, after replacing their deciduous (“baby”) teeth in the first few years of life. As youngsters, dental problems tend to be limited to inappropriate loss of their deciduous teeth to make room for the permanent teeth, or malformations of the jaws or teeth. Many of these malformations can be addressed surgically, often through the application of wire braces or other corrective procedures. The ability to correct many of these abnormalities relies heavily on early diagnosis, emphasizing the importance of having your veterinarian evaluate foals and young horses throughout their growing lives.
As the horse ages, the most common dental diseases which necessitate advanced treatment include fracture or infection of tooth roots. Diagnosis begins with oral examination, which in our hospital is accomplished with the use of endoscopy to facilitate thorough, clear, visualization of the mouth. Additional diagnostics which may be applied include radiographs, nuclear scintigraphy (bone scan) or computed tomography (CT) to thoroughly diagnose the issue to help chose the best treatment approach. In many instances the optimal treatment is to remove these diseased teeth which can be accomplished through many approaches. The ideal approach to tooth removal is oral extraction, or removing the teeth through the oral cavity. However in some instances, removal cannot be accomplished through the mouth, necessitating removal through an external approach which may consist of pushing the tooth out from either the bottom of the jaw (lower teeth) or through an incision over the bridge of the nose. If the disease of the tooth has caused an infection in the sinus cavities, this can also be addressed at the same time either through flushing the sinuses or, in advanced cases, through a surgical approach to the sinus. At the CESH, we have the capability to perform computed tomography (CT, “cat scan”) imaging before or even during these procedures to improve accuracy of the approach and to reduce complications such as incomplete removal of fragments of the teeth, a somewhat common complication leading to postoperative infection and failure to heal.
Of additional note is the instance where the tooth root becomes infected but the remainder of the tooth remains viable, in which case surgical removal of the root of the tooth is possible which allows the tooth to remain in place.
Furthermore, trauma to the head including fractures of the jaws or sinuses are commonly seen injuries in horses. Our diagnostic and surgical facility is well equipped to evaluate and treat these injuries, not limited to dental reinforcement, internal fixation of fractures, or treatment of sinus injuries and other fractures.
If you or your veterinarian suspect dental disease and you would like an evaluation and discussion of treatment options, please contact us via email at CESH@purdue.edu or call us at 317-398-1980 and we will be happy to assist you.