TSA K9 gets root canal at Tinker Vet Clinic

  • Published
  • By Sarah Davis
  • 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Transportation Security Administration Explosive Detection Canine Spike does not have a mean bone in his body, but he did have a mean tooth.

Dentists from the 72nd Dental Squadron, along with veterinarians from the Tinker Veterinary Clinic performed a root canal on the seven-year-old black Labrador retriever’s lower molar during a procedure at the Tinker Veterinary Clinic March 9.

“We came in about four weeks ago for Spike’s semi-annual checkup where we do dental cleanings, and that’s when we noticed something was kind of off,” said Dennis Owens, a transportation security specialist/explosive detection canine handler with the TSA. “Dr. Cameron [Spike’s Vet] had done X-Rays and could see a pocket in his tooth.”

Owens added that before he had adopted Spike, he reviewed the dog’s medical records and noted that two spots had been removed from the same area previously, most likely from chewing sticks earlier in life.

Prior to anesthesia, Spike carried his beloved stuffed pelican in his mouth around the clinic, quickly becoming a crowd favorite.

Owens and Spike are based out of the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, screening vehicles, aircraft and cargo for explosives. Spike’s laid-back personality also allows him to work passenger screening, following moving scent trails.

This ability to keep crowds safe takes Spike to high visibility national security special events, such as the Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500. Spike even has a collectible trading card with his likeness.

Owens was previously assigned to Oklahoma City and brought his previous working dog to the Tinker Veterinary Clinic for care. His trust in Dr. Heather Cameron led to Owens bringing Spike up from Dallas for routine care.

Maj. Ryan Gustafson, 72nd Dental Squadron dental laboratory element chief as well as other dentists performed the root canal while Cameron served as the anesthesiologist, ensuring Spike’s vitals were maintained.

“This is number three for me, number one for our team,” said Gustafson. “It’s something that we touch on briefly in our residencies. These dogs are our patients too.”

Gustafson added that root canals on molar teeth are extremely rare in veterinary dentistry. Depending on the situation, the affected tooth is usually removed, however, removal of large molars such as this one have an increased risk of jaw fracture, so a root canal was the safer option.

“This is a fun opportunity,” Gustafson said. "It gets everyone thinking, ‘if we couldn’t do dentistry in our clinic and had to go out into the field, what would that look like, what stuff would we bring.’”

Spike’s root canal was a success thanks to the care of the 72nd DS and the Tinker Veterinary Clinic. Spike and Owens will soon be a common sight at the Oklahoma City Airport as they are slated to transfer here later in the spring.

The Tinker Air Force Base Veterinarian Clinic is a full-service clinic that cares for all government-owned animals as well as pets of military families. For more information, visit https://tinker.tricare.mil/Health-Services/Other/Veterinary