Research funded by The Horse Trust hasdiscovered a link between lesions on the chewing surface of horse teethand pulpitis, which could allow earlier and more effectivetreatment of the condition.

Pulpitis is a painful inflammation of the pulp within atooth which can lead to a tooth root abscess.

The research, which has been accepted for publication by the Equine Veterinary Journal , was carried out by Miriam Casey, who is in the final year of a three year clinical training scholarship programme at Bristol University funded by The Horse Trust.

Miriam Casey (middle) and two final year students giving a pony an x-ray It can be difficult to identify a tooth affected by pulpitis in horses, meaning that the condition often remains untreated until it has reached an advanced stage, by which time tooth extraction, which can be a major procedure in the horse, is the main treatment option. Radiography can be used to help diagnose pulpitis, but studies have shown that it has limited sensitivity and specificity.

Miss Casey investigated the association between lesions in the secondary dentine of teeth and pulpitis by comparing the cheek teeth that had been extracted from 44 horses with pulpitis, with 120 teeth from seven control cadavers with no history of dental disease. She found that of the 23 diseased mandibular teeth, 13 (57 per cent) had defects in the secondary dentine compared to none of 60 controls. Of the 21 diseased maxillary teeth, 12 (57 per cent) had defects compared to 1 (2 per cent) of 60 controls.

Miss Casey said: “These findings show that examining the chewing surface of a horses’ teeth could help with identifying pulpitis. Vets will need to use a dental mirror or oral endoscope to see these changes – you could easily miss them if you are not looking carefully.”

Miss Casey hopes that her findings will allow vets to diagnose and detect teeth affected by pulpitis at an earlier stage, allowing the tooth to be treated earlier and avoiding the need for tooth removal.

She said further research is needed to investigate whether defects in the secondary dentine are causing pulpitis, or whether they are a consequence of pulpitis due to another reason, such as anachoresis (the deposition of bacteria from the bloodstream in the damaged pulp tissue).

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