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Canine Orthodonics - Maxwell
A close-up of the rubber chain and its button attachment; buttons are cemented in place while the dog is under general anesthesia, which requires an endotracheal tube to safely maintain the airway and deliver oxygen and anesthetic gases. The first several months of a dog’s life are critical for identifying and correcting orthodontic issues. Inset shows the pre-treatment malocclusion.

Others I spoke with have had equally positive experiences. Following the devastating loss of a beloved dog, and much searching, Brenda Lyum and her husband, Mark, of Simi Valley, Calif., brought home a Brittany Spaniel puppy, whom they named Abbey. During their first vet visit, the doctor took one look at Abbey’s mouth and commented that her severe overbite, a genetic defect, was reason to send her back to the breeder. But the Lyums were committed to caring for their new companion, and Brenda and Abbey made weekly visits to Dr. Lynn’s office, an hour-and-a-half drive each way.

During Abbey’s treatment, everyone, including those at the referring veterinarian’s office, marveled at the five-month-old puppy’s orthodontic appliances, which included a palatal expander with acrylic splints on both sides in addition to buttons, chains and composite extensions. They were amazed at what could be done. At a price not significantly different from the cost of extraction surgery, the Lyums were able to save Abbey’s teeth. Unlike rambunctious Wilbur, Abbey kept everything in place until her corrections were complete.

Dr. JP Gonzalez-Torres, a general dentist (for humans), was surprised to find that Piper, his 10-month-old female Wire Fox Terrier, could be treated for a malocclusion resulting from a retained primary, or persistent deciduous tooth. When his veterinarian recommended that he take Piper to Dr. Lynn, Dr. Gonzalez-Torres was intrigued. “As a dentist, I got really excited about the idea of a pet orthodontist. I didn’t know they existed. We were able to correct the issue in a relatively short period of time. Piper did great throughout treatment. For those who question it, the price can be steep, but the end result is amazing. If you can correct a dental issue that could affect the life of your pet, wouldn’t you do it?”

Board-certified veterinary dentists Dr. Anson Tsugawa and Dr. Kristin Walker, who specialize in oral surgery for trauma, fractures and conditions such as oral cancer at Dog and Cat Dentist, Inc. in Los Angeles, believe that every dog is entitled to a comfortable bite. On occasion, however, they have had to explain that veterinary orthodontic techniques are performed only to improve function, for comfort and to eliminate traumatic damage to the mouth, not for cosmetic reasons. In fact, the AKC does not allow dogs who’ve had “work” done on their inherited dentition to compete in confirmation trials.

Because older animals may take longer to treat, dogs should be evaluated as early as possible to prevent or correct dental problems. To avoid complications, multiple visits are required as treatment progresses, so proximity to the dentist is important. For those who must travel long distances and would appreciate fewer appointments, Dr. Tsugawa says some dogs can be fitted with an appliance that their guardian can tighten with a little wrench. Or sometimes, a mold of the dog’s teeth is sent to PetAlign, a New York company that fabricates a series of five or six progressive aligners that can be changed at home. Since each dog’s mouth is unique, a dental specialist or boardcertified veterinary dentist is the best judge of how to proceed.

While Wilbur’s treatment was successful, my fostering was not; he became a permanent part of the family the moment he first scampered through our door. And on our walks, his captivating smile continues to charm and start conversations with every person we meet.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 74: Summer 2013

Photographs by Paula Maxwell and Jennifer Lynn, DVM

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