Dogs Head to Dentist's Office for Braces

Getting braces isn't just for teenagers any more. Count the family pooch in, too.

Experts say that better dentistry can add years to the life of pets, and can spare them the pain that comes from poor dental hygiene. Some dogs undergo root canals, get crowns and even braces — and none of it is for cosmetic purposes.

"Their teeth are their front hands," said Dr. Marty Becker, a veterinarian who is also co-author of Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul. "Try living without your front arms. And there's also the pain issue. A German shepherd puppy I knew was in so much pain, he had to sleep with a toy in his mouth. So doggie dentistry is not a frivolous thing."

One out of two dogs has periodontal disease, so owners should pay much more attentive to dental care, Becker said. Periodontal disease affects the gums, bones, and connective tissue around the teeth, and can cause tooth loss.

First, plaque, a soft, clear or cream-colored deposit, forms on the teeth. If it isn't removed, minerals in the animal's saliva can turn the plaque into tartar. If tartar is allowed to build up below the gums and bacteria grow, it can cause inflammation.

It is illegal for an owner or a dentist to perform any procedure on a dog for strictly cosmetic reasons. Veterinary dentist Dr. Jan Bellows of Hometown Animal Hospital in Weston, Fla., mostly deals with periodontal disease surgery to save the dog's teeth. The doggie root canals and crowns cost about the same as they would for humans, Bellows said.

Braces, however, cost about half of what is charged for humans, and instead of moving multiple teeth, veterinary dentists move individual teeth in dogs. Dogs' teeth tend to stay in place, or are kept in place by the teeth surrounding them, and so they don't need retainers.

More than any other breeds, rottweilers and poodles are predisposed to tooth problems that can be fixed by wearing braces.

Mikey, a 10-month-old Cairn terrier, got braces to correct a canine tooth that was growing up into the roof of his mouth and causing him pain. The tooth was removed, and the braces were put in.

"Mikey comes in every week to get the elastic tightened and adjusted," Bellows said.

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