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A black lab named ‘Taker’ sits in the Dental Detachment office at Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Nov. 1. Taker, a bomb-sniffing dog with the 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, was brought in to have a root canal performed by the dentists of Dental Detachment, Charlie Surgical Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 15 (Forward), 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward).

Photo by Sgt. Brian Lautenslager

Dental Detachment Performs Root Canal on K-9s

2 Nov 2010 | 2nd Lt. Rebecca Burgess

The sailors with Charlie Surgical Company’s Dental Detachment here went above and beyond their mission by opening up their doors to less traditional patients, Military Working Dogs.

In addition to treating more than 3,000 patients throughout their 6-month deployment in support of I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), Cmdr. Louis De La Garza, the dental officer in charge for Dental Detachment, C Surg Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 15 (Forward), 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward) took on the opportunity to provide oral procedures after-hours to the dogs who otherwise would have needed to be medically evacuated to Bagram Airfield or Landstuhl, Germany.

The dogs are under the primary care of Army Capt. Bradley Fields, a public health veterinarian and officer in charge with 358th Medical Detachment and Veterinary Services. Fields has the ability to take care of just about anything for the dogs to include routine dental procedures.

“I can do fillings; I can do dental cleanings, extractions. We can do basically everything here [at the Veterinary clinic on Camp Leatherneck], except we don’t have the capabilities at this time to do root canals,” said Fields, from Montgomery, Ala.

Root canals require X-rays to be taken of the jaw, a capability that Fields doesn’t have yet. But De La Garza does, which is why his assistance was requested.

De La Garza saw this as an opportunity to treat animals, a skill he had obtained while completing his residency at Willford Hall Medical Center, an Air Force facility located in San Antonio.

“I definitely feel fortunate and honored to provide services to everyone out here and the dogs,” said De La Garza. “It has definitely rounded out our deployment in a positive way.”

Operating as a dental clinic for humans, some obstacles had to be overcome to be able to treat these animals and get them back out with their handlers.

The anatomy of a K-9 is much different from that of a human, explained De La Garza, 44. A Dog’s teeth are about twice the size of a human’s, making them difficult patients to work on with tools designed for much smaller mouths.

Even though Fields provided some of his own tools, the sailors, who were not used to animal jaws, had to “think outside the box.”

Ultimately, explained Fields, the fundamentals of the procedure are the same whether it is a human tooth or one from a dog.

Working to solve these dental issues is important to helping save lives. Whether the dogs are on patrols sniffing out improvised explosive devices or apprehending individuals, they are working alongside Marines providing extra safety and a little companionship.

“We want to save their teeth and get dental issues solved because if they’re focusing on their teeth, they’re not focusing on their mission,” said Fields.


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