While there is no single database with national statistics on dog bites, accumulated data suggests the frequency is increasing to the level where a serious bite sends someone into reconstructive surgery every 20 minutes.
Dr. Stephen Smith, one of the country’s leading experts in reconstructive surgery, particularly for procedures related to dog bites, sees at least a patient each week in his Ohio State University Medical Center practice.
“You might expect to see dog bites in kids, because children get right up in the dog’s face and are poking and pulling and don’t quite understand the potential ramifications of that interaction,” said Smith, who is director of facial plastic surgery.
However, half of the dog bite injuries nationwide that require treatment in a hospital are to adults. “The physical injury, the scars and the psychological trauma can pose long-term problems if not addressed,” added Smith.
He said treating dog bites is a challenge, and the plastic surgery techniques to treat facial injuries can involve everything from traditional sutures to state-of-the-art laser resurfacing. “We use all of the techniques that we use in facial plastic surgery for dog bites.
“If we’re rebuilding a nose, we’ll use cartilage from different sources to rebuild some of the structural support,” said Smith. “Sometimes we’ll use rib cartilage, sometimes we’ll use cartilage from the ear and sometimes we’ll take cartilage from the inside of the nose, an area called the septum, to rebuild the strength.” Smith said both art and science play equally in the repair and reconstruction of dog bite injuries.
Smith treated Ohio State student Megan Harris for an extensive injury to her face after she was bitten by her friend’s 160-pound dog.
“I don’t know if it was just that I turned my head and it startled him or what. He just jumped up and took a nip,” said Harris. The injury took off about half of the tip of her nose, an area of the face that is a particular challenge to reconstruct.
For this particular injury, Smith relied on a procedure that dates back to 1,000 B.C. where a narrow flap of skin is pulled down to cover the nose.
“We were really stuck in a difficult situation, in that we had to use her forehead to restore a normal appearance,” said Smith. “There’s still some redness and things that take time to dissipate, but she’s really going to have an excellent outcome,” said Smith. “Dog bites can be challenging.”