Advertisement

Say ‘Arf’ : Pets: Animal dentistry has come a long way from just yanking a tooth. One Beverly Hills veterinarian does fillings, crowns and root canals.

Share via
TIMES STAFF WRITER

Misty was at the dentist for her regular checkup. A tube pumped anesthetic gas down her throat while Dr. Anthony D. Shipp rolled back the 13-year-old’s lower lip to expose her teeth.

“This cat’s in bad shape,” he said, and he was not talking jive. This dental patient was a feline. In her case, it was periodontal disease that allowed the growth of a cavity under the gum line of one of her back teeth.

Gum problems are at the root of most of his patients’ problems, but Shipp, one of the few veterinarians in the country to specialize in animal dentistry, also puts in braces, crowns and implants.

Advertisement

The Beverly Hills practitioner uses much the same tools as a dentist for humans, with some exceptions, like the 24-inch file suitable for root canals on a St. Bernard.

He also uses titanium and other metals to fix broken teeth because some dogs exert as much as 2,000 pounds of force when they bite, more than enough to pulverize the porcelain used for human crowns.

But generally the teeth of dogs and cats are much the same as yours and mine.

“We’re animals too,” Shipp said, puffing on a stogie and pointing to the incisors, canines and molars of animal skulls mounted on a plaque in his study.

After taking courses at the Royal College of Glasgow, the British-born Shipp, 53, completed veterinary school at the University of Georgia in 1966, coming to Los Angeles shortly thereafter.

Seventeen years ago, he took over the practice on N. Foothill Road from another vet. The clinic, dating back to 1924 and the first in Beverly Hills, once involved as many horses as dogs and cats in what was then a semirural suburb.

There is more horsepower than horses now outside the Tudor-style cottage, where wealthy pet owners drive up in Jaguars and Mercedes to drop off their Scotties, chows and Persian cats for veterinary care ranging from regular medical checkups to complex dental work. Shipp, single except for three cats, used to be known for making house calls on celebrity clients in a Rolls-Royce.

Advertisement

A basic exam costs $36, but an implant can cost as much as $1,500.

Shipp, who is writing a book on animal dentistry, advises practitioners that it is best not to assume how much people will pay when it comes to Fido’s well-being.

“You might be surprised, and they will be able to pay for the root canal after all,” he said.

Indeed, “sometimes they like their pets more than their children,” said Dr. Stanley W. Vogel, a dentist specializing in humans, who helped Shipp develop his animal expertise.

“He does wonderful root canal work, wonderful,” Vogel said. “In many cases he’s better than many human dentists.”

Animal dentistry is a relatively new field, emerging as a specialty in the last 15 to 20 years as vets in prosperous areas like Beverly Hills or Florida’s Gold Coast began to teach themselves and learn from human dentists.

“It’s a specialty like any other. You go where the market is,” said Dr. J. Scott McOwen of Del Rey Beach, Fla., president of the American Veterinary Dental Society. “You’re not going to see someone specializing in cardiology going to Aspen, Colo. They’ll go down to retirement areas.”

Advertisement

The thought of animal dentistry would elicit horse laughs in many rural areas, said Dr. John Winters, a vet at the Beverly Hills Small Animal Hospital.

“Before, we didn’t pay much attention to it, but now (we do), especially in an area like L.A., where people seem to lavish a lot of care on their pets, versus a rural society, like Montana, where I come from, where, hell, they’d never consider taking their dog for any dental procedure,” he said.

Sometimes breeders want to have an animal’s birth defects corrected to make a better looking show dog, but Shipp and McOwen both said that those patients are generally rebuffed for fear of maintaining abnormalities in the gene pool.

Which is not to say that animal dentistry is all vanity, although Shipp acknowledged that “our animals get a lot more care than many people in other countries.”

Winters said that once or twice a month he comes upon a case complex enough for referral to his neighbor, or to Dr. David Weule, a Burbank vet who also does dental work.

“But not all owners are able to pay for root canals, so we just extract the tooth and the dogs or cats do fine,” he said. “The animals adapt well to the loss of teeth. But a root canal on a police dog would be much more practical than saving the premolar of a poodle who eats soft food.”

Advertisement
Advertisement