Regular dental care by a veterinarian is an essential part of keeping your horse happy and healthy.
A thorough examination is key to monitoring changes in your horse’s teeth and also to detect any problems – especially problems that aren’t outwardly obvious.
One such problem is a disease called Equine Odontoclastic Tooth Resorption and Hypercementosis (EOTRH). It’s a mouthful to say, but what does it mean?
EOTRH is a disease of the equine incisors (the teeth in the front of the mouth used for grasping grass and treats), the canine teeth, and less commonly up to the first 3 cheek teeth in the mouth. It occurs most often in horses that are middle aged and older, however here at Woodside Equine Clinic we have seen it in horses as young as 12 years old. For reasons still not understood, affected teeth will have abnormal resorption of the structures within the tooth and often simultaneously begin to lay down an abnormal amount of cementum, the calcified substance covering the outside of the tooth. The surrounding tissues often become inflamed as a result of the disruption, which can lead to the formation of open draining tracts originating at the tooth and visible on the gums. Finding these small abscesses is very common in EOTRH, and their presence may prompt your veterinarian to look further.
Definitive diagnosis of EOTRH is made by radiographic examination of both the upper and lower incisors. Most of the time, we find all of the incisors and sometimes canine teeth affected by the disease. Both tooth lysis and hypercementosis are visible on radiographs, as seen here.
As you can imagine, horses with EOTRH experience some level of discomfort usually when grasping treats with their teeth or grazing. The severity and progression of the disease varies from horse to horse.
If your horse is diagnosed with EOTRH, the best way to restore their comfort is having the affected teeth removed – which often means having all of the incisors extracted. This is a procedure that we do here in our clinic at WEC, while the horse is standing but heavily sedated. For pain relief, horses undergoing the procedure at WEC receive nerve blocks and pain medication before and after the procedure. Recovery from incisor extraction is usually relatively rapid, and post-extraction horses have no trouble prehending their food using their lips and gums. Often the only obvious reminder if a horse has had an incisor extraction is if their tongue protrudes from their mouth. This occurs in many of these horses because the teeth are no longer there to act as a barrier holding the tongue in the mouth. But do not be alarmed! – despite the goofy appearance, this does not affect a horse’s comfort, which is fully restored with complete extractions.
Currently, research is being conducted to identify the causes and actual prevalence of EOTRH in the horse. With a better understanding of the syndrome we may be able to prevent or delay the onset of disease. Until then, regular dental evaluation and care performed by your veterinarian remains the best way to detect EOTRH. Schedule your spring oral examination now to have your horse evaluated and give us the best opportunity to make your horse comfortable and healthy!