Dentist teaches basics of oral care for Illinois police dogs

AURORA – Most cops clean their guns.

These cops clean their gums.

Their police dog’s gums, that is.

About 30 area officers learned the basics of oral care for their working police dogs Thursday morning from veterinary dentist Dr. Stephen Juriga, who spoke to the group at the Aurora police headquarters.

Juriga said police dogs – typically German shepherds, Belgian malinois or bloodhounds – have a high pain tolerance and won’t show signs when their teeth are broken, discolored or otherwise causing pain. But such dental problems can affect their ability to sniff out suspects and conduct their work, so human officers need to conduct basic daily checks for signs of damage or decay.

“You’re going to be the initial veterinary team making the diagnosis on your dog,” said Juriga, whose practice at River Heights Veterinary Hospital in Oswego includes police dogs.

To be the “initial vet,” Juriga said, officers need to train their dogs to tolerate having their lips pulled back. This allows the officer to look at the dog’s teeth and run a finger, wrapped in wet gauze, over the animal’s gums to brush its teeth daily. He said this can help spot tooth trauma, including abrasions, fractures or discoloration; luxation, when a tooth is jutting out in the wrong direction; or improper occlusion, when the bite is out of alignment.

During his first presentation to a group of officers, Juriga gave them tips on how to spot tooth problems and get care. He also gave quick exams to at least five dogs brought by officers from the Wisconsin border to the south suburbs, including Aurora, Bartlett, Dolton, Lisle, Oak Brook, Northbrook, Illinois State Police and the Cook, DuPage and Kane County sheriff’s offices.

Romeoville officer John Allen learned that his dog, Spike, a 7-year-old Belgian malinois, has a broken premolar tooth that the dentist called “significantly shortened.” Juriga said it needs an X-ray and potentially further care.

Allen said he learned something obvious yet helpful – a dog’s mouth is symmetrical, so if anything seems off on one side, he always can use the other as a comparison.

“You have a guide as to what to look at,” Allen said.

For Lt. Bill Poirier of the Veterans’ Affairs Police Department in North Chicago, the presentation was a reminder to perform the preventive dental care he already has learned. He said keeping up with dental hygiene will help maintain the health of the fifth dog he’s handled in his career, a 75-pound terrier mix named Berm, or “The Berminator.”

The “passive” Berm – who helps track missing people, search for evidence or sniff out drugs – allows Poirier to brush his teeth each day because he’s accustomed to it after more than three years.

“You start early,” Poirier said. “It’s just part of the daily training.”

Poirier said he hasn’t experienced problems with Berm’s oral health. The dog gets a dental exam every six months, in addition to regular visits with Alexis Newman, a veterinarian with Partners and Paws Veterinary Services in Lisle.

Newman advised officers to be proactive in getting dental problems checked out.

“You guys know your dogs. If you kind of notice something,” Newman said, act on it. “It’s undervalued how much their teeth can cause them to not work right.”

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