All horse owners know their horse very well. The slightest indication that your horse is not doing well sends out the red flag. So if you see facial swelling, a one sided nasal discharge with an odor or notice any mouth odor, a dental problem needs to be on your list!
Soft or hard asymmetric swellings. Young horses can develop normal symmetric bony swellings, called eruption cysts, in response to the eruption (emergence) of the cheek teeth. If the swellings are asymmetric or the horse reacts with pain upon palpation, then consider them abnormal. Figure 1 shows an example of a boney swelling in a young horse. The veterinarian needs to determine if this is a normal eruption cyst or signs of tooth root disease/tooth root abscess. Radiographs are most often used to make this determination.
Other causes for asymmetric soft or hard swellings in any age horse include:
- Sinus problems
- Guttural pouch enlargement
- Lymph node enlargement
- Salivary gland enlargement
- Or cysts formed from tissues involved in tooth development.
One-sided nasal discharge with an odor. Up to four of the six upper cheek teeth communicate with (are connected to) the sinuses within the horse’s head. Abscessation of any of these teeth can lead to a secondary sinus infection. Discharge from the infected sinus will drain out the nostril. It is usually yellow and has an odor you might be able to smell as soon as you walk in to the barn or stall. (Fig. 2)
The upper cheek teeth most commonly become diseased secondary to a fracture or untreated periodontal disease. The end result….infection and the need to treat with antibiotics and/or removal of the tooth. The veterinarian, based on the oral examination and a series of radiographs, will be able to determine the appropriate course of action. (Fig. 3)
Mouth odor. Mouth odor comes from stagnant food that becomes packed between cheek teeth or fractured tooth fragments. A horse owner can detect these signs easily by routinely checking his or her horse’s head for any abnormalities and watching the animal eat. Any foul odor from the nose or mouth is abnormal and should be investigated. Recognition of just these signs may indicate periodontal disease. The veterinarian should perform a complete oral examination. Rinsing the mouth first will remove all of the loose food and debris and leave behind any packing food. Using a bright head light and mirror, the location where the food is being trapped is identified. (Fig 4)
Once the affected area has been identified, the veterinarian will take the necessary steps to eliminate the cause of the food packing. It may involve reshaping malpositioned teeth, removing any sharp edges and adding an impression material in a diseased pocket to allow proper healing. In more advanced cases, tooth removal may be necessary.
It should be remembered, the ultimate goal in dental health, is a happier and healthier horse for its entire life!
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