UNDISCLOSED LOCATION - Roy was nervous, no matter how much his partner tried to assure him that everything would be fine.
Maybe it was the thought of seeing a dentist, or maybe it was that the medical clinic was busier than the average Thursday afternoon. He seemed to spark everyone's curiosity. That didn't make him feel any better, even though he's social by nature and interacts with strangers on a daily basis.
Although many get nervous on a trip to the dentist, Roy is a special case. Roy, an eight-year-old Belgian Malinois military working dog, broke his tooth during a bite drill and has been in pain ever since.
"He's broken his tooth to the point where his nerve is exposed, which means every bite is a painful one," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Richard Eckert, 379th Expeditionary Medical Group dentist.
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Maria Harris, 422nd Medical Detachment Veterinary Services veterinarian, contacted the dental clinic as soon as she saw the severity of the broken tooth in her examination.
Since Roy's bite is one of the trademark "tools of the trade," both Eckert and Harris knew it was important to get his upper Canine tooth fixed as soon as possible.
"There was no doubt that Roy needed our help in easing his pain," Eckert said.
Dynamics of a tooth
Dogs rely on their teeth constantly. Whether they are eating, chewing, or picking up a ball, their teeth are important. However, with a military working dog, their teeth are also their main weapon.
Even though Roy broke his tooth, it did not stop him because his mission outweighed his pain.
"When he broke his tooth biting the suspect, he let out a loud yelp," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joel Brooks, 405th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron dog handler and Roy's partner. "Even though he was in pain, he continued to hold on to his target with his bite until ordered to stop."
In the days following the event, Roy appeared to still be in pain, which prompted his unit's search for further treatment. He was sent to the 379th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron here because the 405th ESFS is forward deployed and did not have the ability to fix Roy's tooth.
"We made the travel here so he could get the treatment he needed," said Brooks. "It was affecting his mood and he wouldn't eat much because it was really bothering him."
A dog's tooth is very similar to a human's tooth, said Eckert.
"They have all the same characteristics of human teeth, just their teeth are made for their carnivorous nature," Eckert said. "Their enamel is much thinner than human teeth, and their teeth are much longer, which means special tools have to be used when working on a dog."
The larger Canine teeth - the four fangs that dogs use to firmly hold their food or grasp objects - are able to penetrate the tissue - or for training's sake, the suit the suspect wears - and the dogs can hold on to their target because the Canines sink into their prey.
"The filling we put in gives Roy temporary relief," said Eckert.
The filling acts as a coating for the tooth, meaning the nerve is covered by the filling. Because dogs use their teeth for virtually everything, a permanent fix like a root canal would keep Roy from reoccurring pain in the event that the filling breaks or wears down, he explained.
A delicate operation
A filling at the dentist is a rather simple procedure for a human, since they are able to comprehend and follow instructions. Dogs must be anesthetized so the dentist can perform the operation without fear of the dog reacting.
"There is a certain peace of mind that comes with knowing that I won't lose a finger," Eckert said.
Harris used an IV on Roy, inserted into his leg. The saline bag would keep him hydrated while he was under.
"Some dogs are sensitive to anesthesia, so we always monitor the dog's vitals and make sure they have the proper amount of fluids while they are under," said Harris.
Every once in a while, Roy's breathing would slow down, which always seemed to give Brooks a little scare.
"It's not easy putting a dog under," said Brooks. "Whenever he stopped breathing, I stopped breathing too. It's really nerve-racking when his respiratory rate slows down because you hear stories of dogs that go in for something routine but never wake up."
Luckily for Roy--and for his handler--the dental team brought a lot of experience to the dental chair and made sure he made it through the operation without any complications.
"I have worked on dozens of canines in my career," said Eckert. "A lot of overseas bases you go to will actually rely on the base's dental corps to take care of it."
After Roy was sedated, the team got to work. They started with X-rays of Roy's mouth, then moving on to the filling itself.
Eckert used a composite restoration to fill Roy's tooth, starting with a mild acid to clean the area, and then he spread a bonding agent on the tooth before placing the tooth-colored material.
After the material was shaped on the tooth, Eckert used a high-intensity visible light to cure the filling. He then used his specialized instruments to shape the filling so it wouldn't interfere with Roy's natural bite.
As the team finished the filling, they took another set of X-rays to make sure the nerve and pulp were sealed, and their job was done.
The next step was just a matter of time; Roy slowly began to wake up.
"It's very important that we take care of the dogs from the time we sedate them to the time they come out of it," said Harris.
As Roy began to wake up, he had a confused look on his face.
It was as if he was asking "Where am I?"
Brooks couldn't have been happier to see him awake.
"Welcome back, Roy," said Brooks, as he pet him on the nose and then moved his hands back to scratch Roy's ears.
Roy was a little tender at first, but by the next day, he had become his old self.
"It's great to know that we were able to fix his tooth and get him back into the fight," said Eckert.
"We've been a team for a year now, and I'm just glad he's feeling better," said Brooks.
Through teamwork between Army and Air Force professionals, Roy was able to return to his duties as a military working dog without any pain--although his enemies in the future may not be so lucky.
This work, Doggie dental: Joint team assists ailing canine, by 2nd Lt. Nathanael Callon, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.