Capt. Johnathan Schubert, 75th Dental Squadron, found himself facing the longest tooth he had ever worked on when Military Working Dog Houston was carried in to one of his treatment rooms Monday, July 9.
HHouston had already had an extraction of one canine tooth, one of the four largest in a dog's mouth, and the potential loss of a second such canine tooth would effectively stop the young dog's military service.
"This is an exceptionally good dog," said Army Veterinarian Dr. Melanie Swartz as she watched from the hallway midway during the procedure. She and her veterinarian technician had administered a sedative injection and placed an IV to HHouston as he quieted down at the veterinarian clinic. His handler, Staff Sgt. Eric Magnuson had carried him in to the Dental Clinic where Swartz and technician Raquel Harris then administered an anesthetic agent via his IV, and maintained him on gas anesthesia.
"We are doing everything we can (to save the tooth)," said Swartz. "Ultimately he may end up losing it later in life but we're doing everything we can to save the tooth so he can do his job. He's quite young; he's not even three yet."
Dr. Schubert has had an interest in animal dentistry student ever since his first year in dental school when he heard a presentation on the subject by a guest lecturer who had performed dentistry on Siegfried and Roy's tigers.
"This is my first time working on a canine," explained Dr. Schubert before the procedure. "I am very interested in veterinary dentistry and in being involved in it whenever we have an opportunity."
He happened to be the lucky person in the room when Dr. Swartz first approached the 75th Dental Squadron about the possibility of such a procedure for MWD HHouston.
In anticipating the procedure, Dr. Schubert explained, "Logistically, it is somewhat difficult --- getting the vet involved, getting the working dog into the clinic, getting the dog anesthetized and induced, and then in terms of our job, (our) working on a military working dog -- they have longer teeth, their anatomy is a little bit different and they're going to be positioned in the chair differently. This creates a situation where something as easy as a simple radiograph (X-rays), becomes more challenging."
The dental chair awaiting HHouston, one of the dental chairs in which humans lay prone, was covered in plastic, then with blankets, a special canine stretcher with a heating pad sandwiched in between.
"When they're sedated their body temperature drops," said Lisa Howells, dental assistant. "So that's why they have this (hot water blanket) to keep the body temp up."
Assisting the dentist would be Howells and Tiffiny George.
The room would be even more crowded with the anticipated arrival of the veterinarian, her assistant, the MWD handler, a K9 candidate Staff Sgt. Matthew Lamarand and of course MWD HHouston.
Dr. Schubert explained some of the tools would be larger than they used on people. He pointed to the files -- or drill bits -- used to take out the pulp, nerve and blood vessel of the tooth. He explained the range of sizes available to be used were roughly twice the diameter and length normally used in humans.
They would also have to make use of a portable X-ray machine, the "Nomad," because of the unique position of the working dog in the chair. Obtaining the X-rays was crucial so that they could verify the canal was adequately filled, therefore ensuring the longevity of the tooth.
"Anything you can do in humans, you can do in dogs," said Lt. Col. Eric Baugh, 75th Dental Squadron commander, as he consulted with Dr. Schubert before the procedure. He explained that he had seen similar procedures performed on dogs' teeth, some even going so far as braces.
Baugh's experience includes 15 root canals on military working dogs, and as Dr. Schubert and the lieutenant colonel reviewed the equipment and tools in the operating room, he made a few more suggestions on how to complete the procedure.
Baugh paused long enough to recount a few missed opportunities to work on a variety of other animals due to procedural delays before a deployment earlier in his career. Chuckling with them about missing the opportunity to work on a black bear and a gorilla's teeth, Baugh explained how he had just missed the opportunity. Dr. Schubert said it was invaluable to have the commander's knowledge at-hand for this procedure.
After the procedure, Dr. Schubert reported, "The root canal treatment was a great success. We were able to achieve a great outcome and hopefully prevent any future pain that HHouston may experience."
Upon recheck by the veterinarian that night and the next day, MWD HHouston appeared pain free, although he is forbidden to do bite work or play with hard toys for 30 days. The tooth saved, HHouston appeared to be on the road to recovery.
Magnuson, the dog's handler, reflected on Wednesday, "The dental procedure went very well. MWD HHouston has bounced back to his normal self. We will not know the full potential of his recovery till he is released fully from his medical stipulations. I hope the service the dental clinic has provided will set the trend for future procedures to be done here locally, and I am very grateful that the dental clinic stepped up and was able to help my partner."
MWD HHouston, bred in the Lackland Air Force Base puppy program, is a Dutch shepherd. The procedure performed at Hill AFB has the potential to save quite a bit of time and money for security forces personnel. Normally the military working dogs are required to travel to Fort Carson, Colo., -- the Army veterinarian's headquarters -- and are accompanied by their handlers for dental work. If the procedures can be handled at Hill, this saves TDY expenses and time for the handlers and their squadron.