Ask the Vet: Equine Dental Care

Question: I have a 4-year-old gelding pony and I noticed he has black discoloration in the center (chewing surface) of the upper and lower incisor teeth. Does the black area on the tooth indicate the teeth are not healthy?

Answer: This is really a very good question. Some of what I am about to discuss has been mentioned in my answer to an earlier question about aging horses, so you may wish to read some of the previosuly submitted questions and corresponding answers.

The incisors (or front teeth) of a horse have two areas on the chewing surface (or occlsual surface) that tend to be dark in color (either black or dark brown) in a young horse like yours. The area closest to the lips is a wide smile shaped dark stain. This is darkly colored dentine that is sitting over the nerve of the tooth (sometimes called the pulp or pulp horn). Behind this area, there is a deep well or “cup” in each tooth, and this is called the infundibulum. These structures are normal parts of the tooth and they will change as the horse ages. However, if the horse has trauma (an injury) or perhaps someone cuts or shortens the incisor teeth as part of a dental procedure, then it is possible to damage the sensitive nerve tissue (the pulp). When this happens, the pulp horns will turn black over time. As the tooth is worn away, it will be possible to pass a fine probe into this part of the tooth. Feed can then pack into the pulp horn allowing bacteria to reach the tooth root and overtime an abcess may form causing the horse pain.The dark areas you are seeing are most likely the “cups” or infundibulum, and the next step in answering your question would be to see a clear picture of the chewing surface of your horse’s incisors.

Question: My vet came out and examined my horse and told me he has “gum disease”. Do horses get gum disease? Is this something I should worry about?

Answer: That’s a great question and it’s similiar to another that has recently been asked. I encourage you to browse the previouslly submitted questions as it may be worth having a look at the answer to that question. Simply put, YES, horses do get gum disease or perio (meaning around) dontal (meaning tooth) disease. It’s actually the most common disease affecting horses with around 70 percent of horses being affected so its something all horse owners really need to be aware of. Like all diseases, the earlier the problem is identified and treatment begins the better the end result for both the owner and the horse. Short answer to your question is yes, it is something you should take seriously. Whatever stage the disease is identified, your equine dental veterinarian will be able to help both you and your horse. However, scheduling regular examinations from an early age is still the best way to keep your horse’s mouth healthy. Periodontal disease can occur anywhere on the horse’s mouth including right at the back of the mouth. Therefore, it is very important that each dental examination is very thorough and that your vet sedates your horse, uses a very bright light and a mirror to examine each part of the teeth and gums carefully for any sign of a problem. Did you know that Bot Flies can cause periodontal disease in your horse’s mouth?  Here is a direct link to a video regarding bot flies and their correlation to periodontal disease in the horse: