Woman petting her guide dog

Good Canine Teeth: A Vet Tech’s Journey + Dog Dental Advice

Today, Nearsighted welcomes Veterinary Dental Technician Laura Chandler. The Guide Dogs for the Blind employee tells us a bit about how she got her current role, and gives us some professional dog dental advice.

Belo Cipriani: Did you have any pets growing up? And, if so, what were they?

Laura Chandler: My childhood was full of animals. Over the years we always had at least two dogs. I also had cats and horses growing up.

Belo: When did you know you wanted to work with animals?

Laura: I hoped that my professional path would include animals and was lucky when the first practice I worked for hired me and took a chance on a green 19 year old! When my mom or I tell childhood friends and acquaintances what I do for a living, every one of them gushes over how perfect my job is for me.

I used to play vet clinic when I was a kid. My mom loves to tell stories about how I used to set up a makeshift waiting room and exam room in our home office. I would have my mom bring in my stuffed animals and I would check them in, take vitals, explain the procedures that needed to be done, and check the client out, including taking payment for services! I was born to be a vet tech!

Belo: Did you have any other jobs prior to Guide Dogs that had you working with animals?

Laura: I have worked in the veterinary field since 2002. The first half of my career was spent in emergency and critical care, working nights and weekends while attending college. I have spent the past six years at Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB), and at another general practice with a high dentistry case load, concentrating on my growing love for veterinary dentistry.

I have been in the field in varying capacities for the last eleven years, and, over the years, I have been amazed at what good oral health can do to the overall health of a patient. It has been proven time and again by medical studies that patients with clean, healthy mouths have better surgical, oncological, and medical treatments. I have been privileged to watch patients come back from the brinks of death just by addressing the disease in their mouths. I heard a veterinary dentist once say that if the level of disease present in most of our patients’ mouths was somewhere else, say the skin, clients would be rushing their pets to emergency clinics. Clients just don’t look in their pets’ mouths. If they did, they would be rushing to get them in for dental cleanings! The mouth is the gateway to the body.

Belo: What type of training did you have to complete to do the work you are doing at GDB?

Laura: I have a Bachelor of Arts degree and also took post-secondary education and continuing education courses to obtain my Registered Veterinary Technician license in the state of California. I then continued my education focusing on dentistry for the past four years, including more post-secondary education, mentorship programs, and continuing education to obtain my Veterinary Dental Technician certification from the American Society of Veterinary Dental Technicians. I am currently in the process of pursuing my specialty license in dentistry with the Academy of Dental Technicians.

Belo: How many dogs do you treat in one day?

Laura: Both at GDB and at my other practice we see many dogs a day for a variety of treatments, appointments, and procedures. On average, though, I have about two dental procedures each day.

Belo: Any funny stories about caring for a dog?

Laura: I have loads of entertaining vet stories, but funny is subjective. Our field is made up of medicine geeks. What is funny to us may not seem funny to the lay person!

Belo: What are some foods or toys that help clean dog teeth?

Laura: When I recommend tools for veterinary dental care, I suggest items approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), an organization that independently evaluates the effectiveness of veterinary dental products. This council endorses veterinary dental products that are proven to work. Typically, I do not recommend any dental home care product that does not carry the VOHC seal.

Just like human dentistry, not just one modality will address all the needs of oral health. We brush, we floss, and we use mouthwash. For my dental patients, I suggest at minimum a two-front approach, usually consisting — first and foremost — with brushing every other day (at least), since it takes about 48 hours for plaque (bacterial colonies) to mineralize into calculus, which cannot be removed by teeth brushing alone. I also recommend chew treats or a water treatment product.

Some of my favorite chew products:

  • Bright Bites® (see next answer for more info)
  • Hill’s Science Diet T/D food (Not as the patient’s full diet, but they are great as treats. These large kibbles break up and “clean” the surfaces of the teeth as they are chewed.)
  • Greenies® are good for patients with no food allergies

My favorite water treatment product:

  • Healthymouth™ water additive prevents plaque accumulation. Just add it to the patient’s drinking water.

Bones are not something I recommended for oral health. Most bones are too hard and the risk of fractured teeth and damage to the oral cavity is way higher than any dental benefit claimed by the maker. As of now, there are no bones approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council. I just don’t believe they provide benefit in the form of creating a healthy mouth. With that said, there are dogs that need to chew and enjoy the stress relief. For those dogs, I subscribe to Dr. Fraser Hale’s (a prominent veterinary dentist) knee cap rule: If you wouldn’t want to hit yourself in the knee cap with it, don’t give it to your dog to chew! Also bones should be used supervised, so dogs cannot chew too hard, risking fracturing teeth, or eating the bones!

I do not recommend hard bones (i.e. NylaBones™) for any patient! They fracture teeth — it is that simple!

Bones I do recommend:

  • GoughNuts™ Sticks
  • Kong® Extreme Goodie Bone
  • West Paw Design Zogoflex® Dog Toy Line – Hurley Bone

Belo: Do breath mints for dogs work? Do you recommend them?

Laura: Bad breath is not normal. If your dog has bad breath, there is most likely some disease in the mouth. 80% of dogs over age 3 have periodontal disease. There is no such thing as “doggy breath.” Bad breath is the first indicator of periodontal disease. Having said that first, I do not recommend doggy breath mints to clients, since most are only masking the smell of disease, not addressing the cause of the bad breath. Also, most doggy breath mints are not hypoallergenic.

After a professional dental cleaning to address the possible causes of the bad breath, I do recommend a product called Bright Bites® to maintain a healthy mouth. They can be found online or at Pet Food Express stores. This product is approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council to not only improve breath with their three fresh flavors (cinnamon, spearmint, or peppermint), but also to abrade the surface of the teeth to remove the plaque (bacterial colonies) and calculus (mineralized plaque) that lead to periodontal disease. Also, Bright Bites® are hypoallergenic and are easily digestible (100% soluble).

Laura Chandler is a Veterinary Dental Technician at Guide Dogs for the Blind. Learn more about the largest guide dog school in the United States by visiting www.guidedogs.com.

Who is Belo Cipriani?

Belo Cipriani is the Writer-in-Residence at Holy Names University, a spokesperson for Guide Dogs for the Blind, and the author of Blind: A Memoir. You are invited to connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube.


Photo courtesy of Guide Dogs for the Blind

Belo Cipriani View more

Belo Cipriani is the award-winning author of Blind: A Memoir and Midday Dreams. He is a disability advocate, a spokesman for Guide Dogs for the Blind, and is currently the national spokesman for 100 Percent Wine -- a premium winery that donates 100 percent of proceeds to nonprofits that help people with disabilities find work.