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Lampas is a common and harmless condition that often occurs when the adult incisors erupt and is characterized by an edema or inflammation of the hard palate, directly behind the incisors. It can swell alarmingly, sometimes extending further down in the mouth than the edge of the front teeth. In fact, it was alarming enough to the owners of horses in past centuries that treatments like lancing the palate, rubbing salt on the swelling, or even burning the top of the mouth were attempted to try and cure this disorder. In truth, the condition will generally subside in just a few days, on its own.
Lampas refers to a swelling of the hard palate that occurs during the eruption of the incisors. This is a common and harmless condition that usually subsides without any medical intervention.
The most obvious symptom of lampas is the swelling of the roof of the mouth, often extreme enough that the roof of the mouth extends downward past the edge of the front teeth. This swelling can sometimes make eating difficult and painful, causing the horse to lose its appetite as well. Many horses will also drool or become shy of the bit while the palate is swollen.
In the past this was considered a disease and attempts to cure it were usually misguided and sometimes barbaric. These treatments rarely helped and often compounded the problem. Cures for Lampas from history include procedures such as:
Burning - The bars of the mouth refer to the bare space on the gum between the front teeth and the molars, and it was believed by some that burning the bars and hard palate with a lamp or hot metal bar would give the horse relief, although articles from veterinary professionals as far back as the 1800’s dismissed this treatment as barbarous
Scoring or scraping - This involved cutting lines in the roof of the mouth to relieve stress; in truth, it extends the pain and creates an opening for viral and bacterial infections
Lampas is due to the irritation of the hard palate. It most often shows up in young horses as their adult incisors erupt for the first time. Occasionally lampas will develop in the mouth of an older horse as well although the reasons for this are less understood. It may be related to ingesting a substance which is irritating to the mucous membranes of the mouth, or to physical damage to the bars or top of the mouth, or even just eating a harder type of food than the horse is used to.
It is important to have your equine dentist take a look at your horse if lampas has developed to the extent that it is interfering with eating or if it has lasted for more than just a few days. Several disorders may initially appear similar to lampas, but they may require medical intervention. This is particularly true if there are any foul odors or blood found in the mouth or any facial swelling. Most dentists use sedation to keep the horse calm during the examination, and many dentists will check not just the mouth area, but also the supporting structures like the muscles that connect the jaw.
They will evaluate the horse to eliminate more distressing disorders from the diagnosis; disorders like infections, abscesses, tumors, or even physical trauma. The dentist will also evaluate the health of the teeth at this time, ensuring there are no cavities, jagged teeth, or gum infections that could be contributing to the inflammation.
With most instances of Lampas in the equine world, no treatment is required. The swelling generally subsides in just a few days and has very little effect on the horse’s overall health. In some cases, the swelling extends down past the horse’s front incisors which, when combined with pain and discomfort, makes the horse reluctant to eat. Under these circumstances, offering the animal soft pellets, softened or soaked grains, and other soft foods that don’t require a great deal of chewing may encourage them to eat sufficient quantities of food while the palate is inflamed, preventing weight loss and loss of conformation.
On rare occasions, anti-inflammatories may be needed to reduce not just the swelling in the horse’s mouth, but also any pain associated with it. These medications will usually be prescribed for a period of five to ten days and can facilitate the horse natural healing ability.
Horses who develop lampas usually have an excellent prognosis, with a return to normal behavior within just a few days. Some horses seem to develop lampas on a regular basis, even into older age, and the eating habits and possibly the bit should be re-evaluated. Avoid food that is too hard or coarse as this can exacerbate any irritation in the mouth area, and give the horses plenty of time at pasture to graze on grass. The natural depth of the hard palate in horses is highly variable and does not seem to be related to age, breed, or gender. A bit which rubs against the palate can become quite irritating in the oral area, possibly inducing swelling of the hard palate on its own.
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