My PhD Research
Equine Periodontal Disease
I am studying periodontal disease in the horse, a common and painful dental condition. Despite causing a lot of discomfort and distress, most horse owners don’t realise their horse has the disease and that makes it a real welfare concern. Horses often develop periodontal disease secondary to other dental conditions such as diastemata (gaps between teeth) or misaligned teeth. Feed material becomes impacted and then ferments, creating an environment which supports growth of bacteria and causes inflammation. The intense inflammatory response produced is very painful and causes the tissue supporting the tooth to break down. The end stage of equine periodontal disease is loss of the tooth. Horses have evolved to eat for up to 18 hours every day, grinding down tough fibrous plant material. Obviously, when the horse looses teeth, it becomes very difficult to eat enough.
Perhaps the old saying ‘no hoof no horse’ should be ‘no teeth, no horse.’
It’s very well known that bacteria play an important role in periodontal disease in other species such as humans, cats and dogs however there’s very little research on which bacteria inhabit the equine mouth. I am using molecular biological techniques to examine which bacteria are found in the healthy equine mouth and which are found in horses with periodontal disease in order to identify which species might be important.
I’m also studying the oral immune response in equine periodontal disease. In humans, the severe immune response produced in oral tissue in response to bacteria results in tissue breakdown. By measuring levels of inflammatory proteins produced in response to bacteria in health equine gum, and gum from horses with the disease, I’ll be able to gain a better understanding of what is happening in the equine condition.
Putting it all together!
Finally, I’ll be growing oral cells with bacteria to find out which species are producing an immune response in the horse, identifying which bacteria are important in the development and progression of the condition.
In the End
Hopefully, at the end of the project we will have been able to gain a better understanding of periodontal disease in the horse. The knowledge of which bacteria are important and how the oral equine immune system responds could be useful in the future to help treat and manage cases of this painful disease, improving equine welfare.