Dear Doctor November 2022


Braces for Fido

Q: My vet said my young dog needs braces. Can that possibly be right?

Elsie Schwartz
Chicago, Illinois

Dear Ms. Schwartz,

A: Yes. It’s not for cosmetic reasons. It’s for a dog with malocclusion that can cause trauma in the mouth. A malocclusion means the upper and lower teeth don’t align properly. For instance, if the lower jaw is really short, a dog’s lower canines — the pointy teeth — can hit the hard palate at the roof of the mouth instead of lining up in between the incisor and canine on the upper jaw whenever he bites. They’re sharp enough that they can drill a hole into the palate. That in turn can lead to the creation of an oronasal fistula — a hole that connects from the mouth up into the nose. The dog then ends up continually getting food into the nose and developing chronic nasal infections. At the same time, the poking of the teeth into the palate is really painful, and not just when the dog eats. Dogs, like people, bite down for a variety of reasons, so the jabbing goes on all day.

Other misalignment problems can occur, too. You can probably see for yourself that the upper and lower jaw don’t line up.

Your dog’s vet is telling you to get on it while your pet is young because that’s the easiest time to move teeth. It goes faster at 6 months of age than at, say, 10 months of age. Bone is more pliable then.

The braces will not look like metal railroad tracks. They’re built out of white dental composite, and they look like a little ramp of sorts. 

An orthodontic solution is actually easier than pulling a dog’s teeth, by the way. Removing teeth requires oral surgery with anesthesia, and sometimes a bone graft, too. Also, while dogs don’t need their teeth to eat, they need them to pick up and carry objects — like their toys. A dog’s teeth are like hands to some degree.

If the tail must go

Q: Because of a cancerous tumor near the base of my dog’s tail, my dog’s vet says her entire tail has to be come off. Is she going to miss it — or continue to feel it, the way people feel phantom pain when they have a limb amputated?

Sydney Contini
Shaker Heights, Ohio

Dear Ms. Contini,

A: There will not be any phantom pain. Your dog will not keep feeling her tail even though it’s no longer there. She will not feel compromised aesthetically, either. Go ahead and order the amputation. We assume the vet is trying to capture a wide enough margin around the tumor to capture all the cancerous cells.



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