MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
The endodontic staff here at the Combat Center performs root canals on a regular basis, but one of their patients March 17 was one of a kind.
When Cmdr. Janet Delorey-Lytle, the 23rd Dental Company commander, learned of the broken tooth and the amount of pain the patient was in, she did what any dentist would do – she scheduled an emergency appointment.
The petite patient, a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois named Amber, was muzzled, slightly sedated and completely docile when her handler, Cpl. Anthony Hulyk carried her in the clinic’s back door.
Following close behind was Army Capt. Amy Clark, the base veterinarian and Spc. Janay Coleman, the veterinary tech, arms laden with medical equipment.
As Hulyk worked to settle his canine charge into the dental chair, Clark explained how they came to have a dog at the dentist.
“My clinic isn’t equipped to handle emergency dental procedures,” said the Anchorage, Alaska native, responsible for the medical care for the Combat Center’s 45 working dogs. “If we couldn’t have her treated here, we would have had to make the trip to [Marine Corps Base] Camp Pendleton [Calif.] for an appointment at their clinic.”
Hulyk, who was outwardly uneasy as the staff greeted Amber and prepared for the procedure, said his partner broke her tooth chasing a toy.
“She was running around being a goofball like she always does when she isn’t working,” said the Pittsburgh native. “I wanted her to go to the dentist yesterday right when it happened.”
Hulyk held the dog’s head while Coleman and Clark anesthetized and intubated her. It was only when the Malinois was completely sedated that he stepped away and seemed to relinquish control of the animal.
As Delorey-Lytle and Deb Genet, the clinic’s senior endodontic technician, used creative placement and angling to insert a dental dam and a bite block, and shoot X-rays of their sleeping patient’s lower left canine, Hulyk explained his relationship with his canine partner.
“She’s like my child,” said the burly military policeman assigned to 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, and stationed with the Combat Center’s Provost Marshal’s Office.
Unconsciously proving his point, he responded to questions about his dog without hesitation. She weighs 43 pounds, her resting body temperature is 101 degrees, and she’s actually 4 years and 4 months old.
Hulyk, who deployed to Afghanistan with Amber in 2008, said they saw a lot during their tour with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and yet watching his dog undergo dental surgery left him more unsettled than any of those images.
“I saw a lot of interesting things on that deployment,” he said, his eyes never leaving his dog. “But it bothers me more to see my dog in pain.”
Delorey-Lytle answered his questions as she proceeded with the root canal and tried to put him at ease.
“Relax,” chided the Moscow, Pa., native, as she explained the filing and drilling. “It’s a tooth, not a kidney.”
As she and Genet finished the procedure, she told him she’d removed the nerves, but it would be a stable, fully functioning tooth with no residual pain.
“She’s a class one dental patient now,” said Delorey-Lytle after taking the time to clean her four-legged patient’s teeth. “That should make a lot of people happy – dental readiness is a high priority for leadership and I believe it extends to every member of our team.”
To connect and interact with the Combat Center, visit our Facebook page.