March 2, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Open wide

By |2018-04-27T18:43:59+02:00July 1st, 2009|Lifestyle Archive|
Teeth are teeth, no matter what.

utta my way, Dog Breath was playground tyrant Jordan Lovitz’s hackneyed insult to the girls in my fifth grade class. Our (only) retort was equally clever, “Thanks for the compliment, we love dogs,” delivered in a singsong whine.

We had no clue what he meant by Dog Breath, as it did not belittle our physical appearance in the way fifth-grade boys’ comments tended to do. Thus, for the rest of our state-run education, we assumed that Jordan was mentally inferior.

One month ago, I concluded that Jordan was a genius.

Dog Breath means putrid and rotten, and if you have a dog with halitosis, living with dog breath is like living in a sewer. Up until last month, the mouth of Bella, my nine-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, was the Cloaca Maxima.

In 2005, my veterinarian suggested that I have Bella’s teeth cleaned as preventive oral hygiene. A good dental cleaning would help limit chances that teeth fall out in later years, and would also help avert gum disease. I was all for it until I was told she’d have to receive an anesthetic.

Scared by the idea that she might not wake up, I stopped the cleaning. Instead, I gave her bones and Greenies, and brushed her teeth once a month. Like most dogs, her breath became progressively worse and the stains moved closer to an espresso hue. Anytime anyone mentioned her halitosis, I shrugged and said I was working on it.

Last month, a veterinarian friend visited me in Rome, and of course Bella came along when I met him. (Note: No, I didn’t stop to think he was on vacation and that the last thing he probably wanted to do was look into a strange dog’s mouth).

Michael probed her teeth, cringed, and scolded me for never having them cleaned. I was doing a good job overall, he said, but dogs, like other pets, often need that little extra help. I explained my fear of anesthesia hoping he’d give me a pass but he instead listed Worse Case Scenarios. Plural.

He suggested I meet with my vet to discuss just what the teeth-cleaning procedure would amount to: intubations, extractions, etc. I needed to get over my fear and put my pet’s oral hygiene ahead of my own phobias. In the end, Bella didn’t require intubations or extractions. Her teeth are now clean and she is kissable.

Some lessons I learned:

  • Teeth are teeth no matter what the species. They must be cleaned. Brush your pet’s teeth with pet toothpaste daily. Just like your own teeth.
  • Routinely give your pet chewy toys (bones, etc.) specifically made for oral hygiene. Don’t be a wimp.
  • Talk to your vet about your pet’s teeth. If your pet needs a professional cleaning, don’t panic: Discuss the procedure and its benefits. There’s no need to rush into it. And likewise, no need to avoid it.

— For more information, see Wisegeek answers, vet advice and Town & Country Animal Hospital.

About the Author:

Erica Firpo wrote The American's pet advice column from 2006 to 2009. She is a freelance travel and culture writer who lives in Rome with husband, daughter and faithful sidekick Bella. She has worked for Fodor's Rome edition, Luxe City Guides and National Geographic Travel, as well as writing art reviews for Zing and other U.S.-based magazines.