The 9-month old pit bull puppy from Hayward was shaking, and her tongue hung out of her mouth, covered in blood. A victim of suspected animal abuse, “Allie” had an injured left jaw and severe bruising around her ears and trunk. Taking a closer look, SAGE Dublin surgeon Dr. Tim Sellmeyer noticed that Allie could not close her mouth and he suspected her right jaw was also injured. CT scans proved his hunch was correct.
“I had hoped her jaw was dislocated on just one side because that would be much easier to pop back in,” Dr. Sellmeyer stated. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.”
A Rare and Complex Injury
Generally speaking, dogs injure their jaw when they get into fights with other dogs, or when they sustain a fall. With dog fights and falls, veterinarians see injuries in the lower sections of the jaw around the teeth, and usually only one side of the jaw is affected. Allie’s injuries were unusual, Dr. Sellmeyer concluded. The bones near the temporomandibular joints (TMJs), which attach at the top of the jaw, were both fractured. It’s rare to see fractures that high on the jaw, and even more uncommon to see a break on both sides. A severe injury like this requires extensive surgery, and luckily for Allie, Dr. Sellmeyer is a board-certified veterinary surgeon who specializes in treating complex fractures.
Sellmeyer’s Surgical Approach
According to Dr. Sellmeyer, veterinarians today have a greater range of fixation methods for jaw injuries. In the past, veterinarians had to bind dogs’ teeth to eliminate any movement of the jaw—this was a very difficult surgery for a dog to endure. Other methods included using oral cement and pins to secure the jaw. All these methods were very cumbersome.
Dr. Sellmeyer used titanium plates that lock into the bone—these plates will remain in Allie’s body for the rest of her life.
Allie’s surgery took over three hours. Dr. Sellmeyer and his team anesthetized her and repaired one side of her jaw, and then turned her over to repair the other side. All the while, SAGE staff and thousands of social media followers were rooting for her.
The oral cavity is a magnet for infection, Dr. Sellmeyer said. The good news is that titanium—the material he used to repair Allie’s jaw—has a strong track record of resisting infection.
Another risk was injury to blood flow. In humans, cutting off the blood flow to an artery could lead to death or the loss of a limb. A dog’s vascular system is different. If blood flow to a dog’s artery is jeopardized, an alternate blood supply, known as “collateral blood supply” will flow to the area. Still, Dr. Sellmeyer wanted to avoid the blood supply and nerves that course through Allie’s jaw. Injury to these nerves could result in decreased sensation, numbness or tingling. Dogs tend to chew and lick areas that are numb or tingling, which can lead to infections—exactly what Dr. Sellmeyer wanted to avoid.
Allie’s surgery was a success. She was restricted to soft foods for eight weeks and healed beautifully. She recently visited Dr. Sellmeyer for a post-op and he gave her a clean bill of health.
“She is completely healed, with normal jaw movement and no restrictions,” he said. “Her jaw works perfectly well and she can enjoy her life.”