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Periodontal Disease

Just like humans, horses can suffer from periodontal disease, which is a condition involving the tissues surrounding the teeth which normally help to anchor the teeth within the jaw bone. Untreated periodontal disease can result in loss of teeth.

What are the signs of periodontal disease?

Mild periodontal disease often has few or no symptoms (although some horses may salivate more than normal). But as the condition worsens, the gums become red, swollen and inflamed and may develop ulcers. The horse's mouth also becomes increasingly painful. The tissues around the base of the tooth loosen which creates a space that can fill with food particles. As a result of this trapped decaying food, the horse often develops bad breath.

What happens if periodontal disease is not treated?

Left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to the tooth loosening so much that it falls out. If the tooth is lost, the tooth in the opposite jaw begins to grow, because it is no longer kept in check during chewing and grinding of food. This can lead to more problems in the horse's mouth. In some horses, wads of partially chewed food may drop from the mouth during eating.

Prevention is better than cure

If your horse develops significant periodontal disease, your vet will have to remove any loose teeth, address the inflammation, and try to correct the alignment of the remaining teeth. This may require several visits. Antibiotics may also be needed to combat any infection.  As with many things in life, prevention is better than cure. Regular dental examinations by your vet (at least annually) can help identify and treat periodontal disease to prevent more serious problems later on.

What can be done if my horse loses teeth?

If periodontal disease and loss of teeth make it difficult to chew properly, then the horse may begin to lose body condition. However, there are "complete" equine diets that are specially formulated for horses with significant tooth loss. These diets are supplemented with nutrients normally obtained when horses graze, and can be very useful to maintain the condition of older horses with significant periodontal disease.