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A stronger bite for a future fight

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A U.S. Army soldier from Fort Wainwright, Alaska, inserts a breathing tube to assist Sokkol’s, 549th Military Working Dog (MWD) Detachment MWD, oxygen flow during a double root canal procedure at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, Sept. 5, 2019. The veterinary clinic on Fort Wainwright partnered with members from the 354th Medical Group assigned to Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska to accomplish the root canals. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aaron Larue Guerrisky)

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U.S. Air Force Capt. Robert Walter, 354th Medical Group dentist, performs a root canal on a military working dog (MWD) at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, Sept. 5, 2019. MWDs receive at least two exams a year during which they undergo a physical and once a year have full blood work done. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aaron Larue Guerrisky)

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U.S. Air Force Capt. Robert Walter, 354th Medical Group dentist, performs a root canal on a military working dog at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, Sept. 5, 2019. Sokkol, 549th Military Working Dog (MWD) Detachment MWD, is a bomb sniffing dog, was recently promoted to Staff Sgt. and has deployed multiple times. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aaron Larue Guerrisky)

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U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army members perform and assist during a root canal on a military working dog (MWD) at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, Sept. 5, 2019. Broken teeth can be a source of infection for MWDs and may interfere with their already challenging job. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aaron Larue Guerrisky)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --

A military dentist’s duty is to care for a patient’s teeth and keep readiness in check for all military members.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Robert Walter, 354th Medical Group dentist, does just that by keeping Airmen ready-to-go, but he also recently received a request from the veterinary clinic at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
The clinic reached out to Walter because they had a patient that needed a root canal done on their left and right lower canine teeth.
Military Working Dog Sokkol, assigned the 549th MWD Detachment, was that patient. He was the canine with the damaged canines, recently promoted to Staff Sgt. and frequently taken care of by U.S. Army Capt. Taylor Reynolds, Public Health Activity Fort Lewis Fort Wainwright Branch chief.
“All of our MWDs get at least two exams a year,” said Reynolds. “At those exams they get a physical and once a year they receive full blood work and all their vaccinations.”
Much like a human military member, the recurring checkups ensure the health of the dogs while also allowing personnel at the clinic to care for them if they discover an injury.
Because MWDs tend to execute a higher amount of biting, their teeth can be more susceptible to damage and breaking.
 “At one of those routine exams we found he had [two fractured lower canines],” said Reynolds.
Broken canines can provoke enough pain to interfere with a MWD’s already challenging job and also may be a risk to their health.
“When their teeth are broken, it is a source for a possible infection which can be really threatening to the dog,” said Walter. “If their teeth are in pain they won’t bite well so they will release and not follow commands as well. That’s why fixing canine teeth is important.”
For Walter, having the opportunity to work alongside the Army and on a dog is a unique experience unlike his day-to-day work.
“I feel really fortunate that I was able to contribute and play a small role in helping the dog get back into the field supporting our troops,” said Walter.
Sokkol, who has deployed twice to Afghanistan, is expected to have a full recovery and jump his way back into the action in the future.