First Person Singular: Barron Hall, animal dentist
In four years of veterinary school, I never saw any teeth; I never cleaned any teeth. And yet my license allowed me to do extractions. An MD can't clean your teeth, but if you're a vet, you can pretty much do whatever you want to all animals. I happen to think they deserve better than that.
My first-ever experience with dentistry was during a preceptorship I had my senior year. As the lowest person on the totem pole, I had to do the cleanings. This dog had a few wiggly ones, so I called the doctor over to take a look, and I'll never forget: He walked over and just wrenched about nine teeth right out. It looked pretty brutal. No anesthesia. No sutures. The next time I noticed something, I didn't mention it.
I love surgery. I love to cut and cure. Open it up, put it back together and be done. There's a real satisfaction in the finality of it. I could never do dermatology: Dog gets a rash; it comes back. It's never over. I'm more a doer than a thinker, so surgery suits me. I hide in my work, really; I'm a workaholic, so a five-hour full extraction is better for me than dealing with any problems at home or with people, who can give you lip.
Teeth are for the wild, to tear apart carcasses. Teeth are a luxury for domesticated animals and can cause more pain than they're worth. When owners ask me what their pet is going to do without any teeth, I tell them, "The same thing he does now: Look at you when he's hungry and eat whatever food you give him."
People freak out about the anesthesia. But the fact is: No self-respecting animal is going to let you stick your hands in its mouth and do a real cleaning.
Most problems are below the gumline. I tell people up front: It can be a big chunk of money, especially if we do a full extraction. But look, this can change your cat or dog's life. This one standard poodle, a 14-year-old, came in after spending a weekend in the ER. His breath was horrible. He moved like an old man. We did a full extraction. Two weeks later, and this dog who could barely get on the couch was jumping over it. The owner told me that the whole dynamics of the house had changed because he never knew how much pain that dog was in.
Imagine if you were walking around with a mouth full of rotten teeth and couldn't tell anyone. That's what I love about my job: being able to be a voice for these animals.
Interview by Amanda Long