Canine Teeth Get Straightened with Braces
The teenage trend of braces is now extending to snaggle-toothed-dogs. (Pet Pulse Photo by John Parker)
DENVER -- Millions of teenagers have them and most can hardly wait to get them off. Now, braces are extending past the adolescent community and into the world of pets.
More veterinarians are starting to treat canine orthodontic problems with the bulky, and often expensive, installment. Doggy braces, however, are usually prescribed for health reasons, not for cosmetic appearance.
"For orthodontics, we're trying to improve comfort of the patient, as well as function," Dr. Don Beebe, a Denver- area veterinarian said. "And cosmetics is the least of our concerns."
Getting outfitted with braces is a life-changing day for 7-month-old Hobbs, a Sheltie who recently visited Dr. Beebe. He came with his owners to fix a small problem that's turned into a much bigger one. A baby tooth that refused to fall out is crowding his adult teeth and turning his mouth into a crooked mess.
"It's gotten a lot worse in two weeks," Carol Terrell, Hobb's owner, said. "And that's what bothers me."
Hobb's regular veterinarian suggested they see Dr. Beebe for a solution.
"It's real obvious," said Gary Terrell, Carol's husband. "His teeth are growing out, and you can see it’s crooked. When he sleeps, it's sticking outside his gums."
For canines, though, getting braces is a surgical procedure.
With Hobbs under anesthesia, Dr. Beebe recently got to work. The sound of a drill could be heard as he first ground a bit of the surface off several teeth.
Then came the braces, a combination of elastic and acrylic. The acrylic material is shaped and bonded to the teeth. Much like the brackets on human braces, the acrylic buttons hold an elastic chain that acts like a wire.
The chain will gently move the crooked tooth over a period of time. The Terrells will have to change it out every week, and, as one would with human braces, tighten the chain every two weeks. It will take six to eight weeks for the crooked tooth to begin to straighten.
"After that, we're going to keep the elastic chain on, but in a neutral position. We're not going to have it under tension," Dr. Beebe said. "That's our retention period, just like a person that's had braces that has to wear a retainer afterwards."
Before vets started administering braces, the solution for a problem like Hobbs' may have involved extracting or filing the tooth. In this case, the crooked tooth is a canine tooth, and Dr. Beebe decided any treatment other than braces could have jeopardized the quality of Hobbs' life.
"The canines, those four long fang teeth, that’s what dogs use as their fingers. That's what they use to pick up toys and carry them around. So if we can save the canines, we really try to," he said.
Metal is sometimes used for braces, but the shape of a dog’s tooth is much different than a human's, making metal braces more difficult to place.
Braces can cost up to $2,000, and while the braces are on, owners have to be very diligent in cleaning their pets' teeth. Depending on which teeth are involved, the dogs might have to eat soft food, and have to stay away from certain toys.
But, in the end, Hobbs should have a set of teeth that any dog can be proud of. In this case, it's not the patient that's getting ribbed. The Terrells have already heard about it from the neighbors.
"All our friends think we're crazy for doing it," Carol Terrell said. "But it's something that has to be done. Hobbs is like a child to us."
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