Customize Bits and Bridles to Minimize Oral Ulcers


Bridles and bits should be custom designed or fitted in order to minimize the occurrence of oral ulcers, according to a group of Swedish researchers led by Ove Wattle, DVM, PhD, from the Department of Clinical Sciences at the Swedish University of Agricultural Science.

"Oral ulcers and abrasions on the lips, cheeks, and tongue of horses are very common and are primarily caused by trauma," Wattle said. "For example, nose bands pressing against the horse's cheeks and badly fitting bits are both thought to be common causes of oral ulcers."

These ulcers appear to be well-tolerated by horses, but are thought to be uncomfortable and have the potential to cause significant oral pain.

To better assess the prevalence, location, and type of oral ulcers in horses, Wattle and colleagues examined 113 horses and ponies. They assessed lesions (ulcers and other soft tissue abnormalities) at seven different locations within the oral cavity and classified them as large or small and either acute or chronic. All horses included in the study had undergone routine dental care.

"Horses ridden with bit and bridle had a significantly higher prevalence of large and acute cheek ulcers compared to the group of horses that were not currently being ridden," Wattle said.

The authors concluded that a bit and bridle can cause oral ulcers despite regular dental floating prompting them to suggest that, "a more individual approach to the choice and fitting of bits and bridles, and a more evidence-based approach to prophylactic dentistry would be more effective at preventing the formation of oral ulcers."

Charles McCauley, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, Dipl. ABVP, an assistant professor in Equine Surgery at Louisiana State University, commented on the study.

"In North America, the effect of bits and bridles on the development and location of oral ulcerations has not been assessed," he said. "Although not statistically proven, we have observed a dramatic decrease in the number and severity of oral ulcerations in a large group of trail riding horses that we provide annual dental prophylaxis regardless of the type of tack that is used on these horses. The importance of a complete oral examination using a speculum, good light source, and dental mirror cannot be overstated.

"However, further research into the effect of bit and bridle fit, the horses discipline and the effect of bit seating on the development of oral ulcers would allow veterinarians to be more precise with their recommendations for dental care and certainly be of benefit to all horses," he said.

The study, "The prevalence of oral ulceration in Swedish horses when ridden with bit and bridle and when unridden," was published in the December 2008 edition of The Veterinary Journal.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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