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What is Diastema?

Diastema in horses can cause food to be trapped between the gaps.  The food between the teeth begins to decay and causes an oral infection.  If left untreated, diastema in horses will lead to peridontal disease, an extremely painful condition.  

If your horse is showing symptoms of diastema, he should be seen by a veterinarian.  The longer diastema is left untreated, the more damage it can cause to your horse’s health. Pain, inflamed gums, and sinusitis are just a few of the complications that can arise if the condition is not repaired.

A horse’s molar cheek teeth are usually positioned close together. If the horse has an abnormal space between his teeth this is called diastema.

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Symptoms of Diastema in Horses

Symptoms may include:

  • Quidding (horse spits out balls of semi-chewed food)
  • Lack of appetite 
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Pouching food in the cheeks
  • Bad breath
  • Pain
  • Change in behavior
  • Fever
  • Loose teeth
  • Inflamed gums
  • Sinusitis

Causes of Diastema in Horses

  • Diastema in young horses may be caused by teeth coming in incorrectly
  • In older horses the tooth root shrinks within the gum, which then causes a gap between the teeth
  • If a tooth is pulled or fractures due to an injury, the missing tooth creates an empty space

Diagnosis of Diastema in Horses

The equine veterinarian will take the medical history of your horse including information on the symptoms. The veterinarian may want to see the patient’s dental, immunization and deworming records. The veterinarian may want to watch your horse eat, so he can see how he masticates his food. 

He will then perform a physical exam on the horse and check the patient’s overall health condition.  The physical exam may include listening to the heart, lungs and gastrointestinal tract with a stethoscope.  The veterinarian may also take your equine’s temperature, weight, blood pressure, and pulse, check for swollen lymph nodes, and palpate the horse’s face and sinuses.  

The patient may need to be sedated so that the veterinarian can perform an oral examination. This is a painful condition; therefore, an intravenous may be started to help administer the sedative and pain medication. The veterinarian will use a full mouth speculum to keep the mouth open for observation.  The exam will include a visual inspection of the teeth and gums and a palpation of lower and upper jaw. 

Dental x-rays may also be taken to check for loose teeth and bone infections. The veterinarian may recommend having a complete blood count performed.  Blood will be drawn from the side of the patient’s neck.  A complete blood count may help determine if the horse has a low blood count or if he has a bacterial infection.

Treatment of Diastema in Horses

The food that is trapped between the gaps will need to be flushed out with an antiseptic solution. The veterinarian may also use a dental pick.  An oral lavage using a chlorhexidine gluconate solution mixed with water may need to be administered daily, for 7-10 days. A simple garden pump spray may help dispense the lavage.  

The veterinarian will administer antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication via the intravenous line. Omega 3 supplements can also help with the inflammation. 

The veterinarian may suggest widening the space between the teeth so that food is not trapped within the gap.  The space is widened using a motorized dental rasp which grinds down the edges of the teeth creating the gap.  Loose teeth may have to be pulled and the empty space may be filled in with a plastic impression material.   

The patient’s diet may be modified from long fibered forages to chopped forages. The veterinarian may also suggest softening the hay while the patient is undergoing treatment.  Older horses may have their diet modified permanently. The veterinarian may recommend a wet-down soften pellet feed for senior horses.

Recovery of Diastema in Horses

It is important to follow the veterinarian’s treatment plan for your horse.  Follow up visits will be necessary to monitor the horse’s progress.  The veterinarian may want to have x-rays re-taken, to ensure that there is no further bone or tissue infection.  He may also recommend another complete blood count, to determine there is no longer a bacterial infection.  

It is recommended, that a horse should be seen by a veterinarian once a year for a wellness check. Young horses under five years old should also be seen by an equine dental veterinarian every 6 months, to ensure healthy permanent teeth.

Diastema Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Darcie
ISH
8 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

What is the prognosis for 8 yr old ISH with diastema that has had treatment and gaps widened. Now on normal forage and should you buy a horse with this condition? Thank you

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1722 Recommendations
It all depends on the underlying cause, but if there is no evidence of any issues with the teeth, jaw or anything else and Darcie is eating normally there should be no reason not to purchase this horse. There are variables which should be checked by your Veterinarian (and/or Equine Dentist) together with the pre-purchase examination (all horses should be examined by a Veterinarian before purchase in my opinion). Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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