We’re used to seeing braces on people, but dogs? However strange and unusual it seems, canine orthodontics is set to be the next big thing, with dog braces one of its biggest trends: if you want to stay ahead of the curve, pay attention now.
Function over Beauty
Doggy dentistry is actually not as new as it seems: ever since the 1980s, animal experts have been borrowing from the field of human orthodontics to improve the smiles of dogs the world over. However, while the techniques are much the same in both spheres, the overall goals are as different as night and day. While people tend to be just as much (if not more) concerned about the aesthetical possibilities of dentistry as they are about its practical purpose, dogs couldn’t care less how they look, and for the most part, neither could their owners. When it comes to canine dentistry, function reigns supreme. And that’s exactly where braces come into play. As Dr. Donnell Hansen, a veterinary dentist and oral surgeon at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Minnesota, told PetMd “We’re not doing this for aesthetics. We’re doing this for a healthier and more comfortable bite.”
Conditions Requiring Braces
So, now we know doggy braces are a possibility, how do you know if your own pooch might need them? As it turns out, the reasons for considering braces are many, varying from crowded teeth to cancer, and everything in between.
- Linguoversion: Linguoversion is a condition in which the teeth are pushed back towards the tongue. If this occurs in the bottom set of teeth, the teeth could end up rubbing against the roof of the mouth, resulting in a serious amount of pain and discomfort. In the worst examples of the condition, the teeth can even puncture the roof of the mouth, leading to even more painful (and costly) sinus infections.
- Overbite: Humans aren’t the only ones that can be afflicted by an overbite and lance teeth (a condition that results from the lower jaw being shorter than the top jaw). Dogs are just as susceptible to an overbite, with some breeds more vulnerable than others.
- Overcrowding: If a dog’s adult teeth come in before their baby teeth have fallen out, their mouth can become dangerously overcrowded, putting them at increased risk of discomfort, infection, and a poor bite.
- Cancer: Certain types of cancer may require the removal of part of the jaw. In such cases, “tooth drift” (i.e. the teeth’s propensity to try and move into an empty space) is a very real danger, resulting in loosened teeth, loss of bone structure, and a weakened bite.
In all of the above cases, braces can help restore function, improve bite, and lessen discomfit.
Diagnosing the Requirement
As with all medical conditions, it’s vital to get your veterinary to check your dog’s dental health regularly, particularly if you suspect they may require intervention. Typically, the requirement for braces is identified during a dog’s formative years, as any problems with the development of adult teeth can generally be spotted between 4-6 months old.
It’s important to note that not all dental problems require braces. If the problem is minor, and if your dog’s experiencing no obvious pain from their condition, your vet may recommend “rubber ball therapy”. The “therapy” is simple: your vet will show you how to position a ball in your dog’s mouth, and the pressure off the ball will, over time and continued use, help move the teeth into their optimal placement.
If neither you nor your dog has the patience for rubber ball therapy, an alternative solution could lie in extracting or filing the problem teeth. However, as this type of “quick fix” can be complicated, often involving painful surgery and many repeat visits to the vet, braces may be suggested as a comparatively pain-free and effective solution.
To determine if your pooch is a suitable candidate for braces, your vet will first conduct a thorough examination to ensure they’ll cope with the several rounds of anesthesia fitment will require. If they’re deemed fit, the actual procedure will take around 30 – 90 minutes (but be prepared for multiple sessions: as well as taking x-rays and cleaning your dog’s teeth in preparation, your vet will also need to take casts of your dog’s teeth to ensure a customized fit). Once they’re in, they’ll need to be worn for anything between a few weeks and a few months.
Cost of Fitting Braces
When it comes to vet visits, we’re used to coming away with a hefty hole in our wallet. Dental surgery is no different: if your vet recommends that braces are in order, get prepared to dig deep. Although actual costs can vary depending on both location and the individual requirements and needs of your pooch, expect to pay anything between $1,500 and $4,000 for treatment. It’s not just the cost commitment you need to think about, however: the process of fitting braces is time-consuming, and can in some instances stretch over the course of several weeks. Be prepared for both fortnightly or even weekly visits to the clinic in the stages leading up the braces being fitted, and an equal number of check-up and maintenance visits after. Despite the inconvenience and cost, braces may a very effective solution to a range of problems; if you’re happy to pay whatever it takes to keep your pet healthy and happy, they’re a very worthy investment.
So, now your dog’s got braces, how exactly do you care for them? The first step is to maintain good oral hygiene: use a soft toothbrush to clean the teeth around the brace and be sure to use an oral antiseptic to avoid any risk of infection. Depending on the circumstances, your vet may recommend switching to a soft food formula. Regardless, keep your newly braced up pooch well away from any rawhide or chew toys that could displace the brace or even work their way under the structure.