Tufts Gives Lowell Police Pup Pro Bono Dentistry

Tufts Journal
May 1994

When Lowell's only police dog, a German shepherd named Randy, received four root canals to fix his worn cuspids, the city's residents wondered if it was wise to spend $2,000 on the dog's teeth. But when they took a closer look, they found that purchasing and training a police dog cost between $8,000 and $10,000. Randy's 60 apprehensions of criminals turned what was thought to be frivolous dental maintenance into a prudent investment. After all, how effective could Randy be if his bark really was worse than his bite?

Dr. Laura LeVan, clinical assistant professor of surgery at Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine, who did Randy's root canals, and Dr David Russell, assistant professor of restorative dentistry at Tufts School of Dental Medicine, who helped train LeVan, teamed up to give Randy crowns on the root-canaled teeth for free. LeVan placed four shiny gold crowns on Randy's teeth at Linwood Animal Hospital in Lowell. Dr. Richard McCarthy, Linwood veterinarian, administered Randy's anesthesia.

"Dr. LeVan has been great with these animals, and she certainly enjoys giving something back to the community," Russell said. In an all-out volunteer effort Dr. Carol Cookingham and Tufts' dental laboratory technician Paul Lalicata donated their services.

Randy's dental woes began behind bars, or more to the point, by biting the bars of his cage. By wearing down his cuspids (the four triangular teeth in the front corners of the mouth) on the cage bars, Randy's nerves on the four teeth became exposed, leaving the teeth vulnerable to infection.

Randy's veterinarians at Linwood recommended an examination by LeVan when the extent of his dental problems was discovered during treatment for other health problems. "We've worked with Dr. LeVan before on dental procedures with other patients, and we felt she would be best-suited to help Randy," McCarthy said.

LeVan drilled a hole into each tooth and with a needle-thin file, cleaned out the exposed nerve tissue on the cuspids. The crowns are necessary to restore Randy's biting ability as well as to prevent further infection. Randy was under general anesthesia and slept through the procedure.

"This was the first time Dr. Russell and I had given a dog crowns in a private animal hospital, so it was a learning experience for us as well as the two Tufts dental students who were observing," LeVan said.

"The most common disease among dogs and cats is periodontal disease," said LeVan, who counsels other veterinarians and pet owners on how to brush their pet's teeth to prevent gum disease.

Though some contend that dentistry for animals is an extravagance, LeVan said, "I'm interested in the humane aspect of veterinary dentistry. I don't practice dentistry on animals to improve their appearances. I do it to improve their quality of life. Because a police dog is a working animal, taking care of his teeth is like making sure a cow produces good milk."