Veterinarian Dr. Barden Greenfield Finds Calling as Pet Dentist
By Don Wade
Dr. Barden Greenfield was rolling along with his private veterinary practice, happy enough in his work, but also wondering what the rest of his career might hold.
“A veterinarian, or anybody, can hit a mid-journey slump,” Greenfield said. “I didn’t want that to happen. So when I learned that seven of 10 dogs and cats over age 3 have periodontal disease, I realized that pets need dentists, too.”
And so began a new chapter in Greenfield’s career. In 2005, he began a non-conforming residency in dentistry and oral surgery; he completed it in 2009.
To do so, he traveled back and forth to Florida while maintaining his practice in Memphis.
“My wife was an absolute patron saint during that time,” said Greenfield, who is 57.
Today, Greenfield is a board certified oral surgeon practicing at Cordova’s Memphis Veterinary Specialists (MVS). It’s a referral-based practice working with primary care veterinarians to provide services not typically found outside veterinary teaching hospitals. Besides Greenfield, MVS has three surgeons, two internal medicine specialists, two dermatologists, two ophthalmologists and a radiologist. The MVS facility also houses an emergency hospital offering treatment 24 hours a day and not requiring a referral.
Greenfield is a fellow of the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry and the current president of the board certifying Diplomates of the American Veterinary Dentistry College. He has a special interest in endodontic therapy (root canals), prosthodontics (crowns) and surgical oncology.
Sunny, a 10-year-old Goldendoodle, is typical of Greenfield’s patients. Sunny’s owner, Ann Benvenuto, noticed her dog was not living up to her name. Something was just off. She wasn’t eating much, didn’t seem herself.
When Benvenuto took Sunny to her regular veterinarian, the diagnosis was a fractured tooth. But the vet was unsure how involved the fracture might be and that led to a referral to Greenfield, who ended up removing the tooth.
Sunny’s recovery was quick.
“She was a like a puppy again,” Benvenuto said. “Running around the house smiling, happy as could be.”
Benvenuto said one of the things she learned from speaking with Greenfield is that dogs have a high pain tolerance. So she didn’t immediately realize Sunny had a problem.
“They disguise their pain,” Benvenuto said.
Another patient, a Dachshund, came to Greenfield with more obvious symptoms: foul odor in the mouth, much drooling, not eating, and not chewing on its toys. In this case, he says, the dog’s immune system was having a severe reaction to plaque build-up.
“He’s going to have all his teeth removed,” Greenfield said. “Which sounds radical. But he’s going to feel like a million bucks and he doesn’t have to go out and catch food.”
Every case is different, of course, but what Greenfield has come to realize is that veterinary schools apparently are not spending much time covering periodontal disease with students. Greenfield spends a lot of time lecturing across the country – often before state veterinary associations – and even abroad. Both locally and regionally, he is in contact with a number of veterinarians who consult him when dentistry issues arise.
Pet owners, he says, need to be ready to ask their regular veterinarians questions when something seems amiss. Some private practice veterinarians, he says, are capable of doing the simpler tooth extractions and in fact he teaches a course, Small Animal Dentistry 101, to help them do just that.
But he is mindful that there are limits, too.
“The last thing we want to do is to teach them to be weekend warrior dentists.”
He also advises to be wary of generic products in pet stores claiming to control tartar and plaque. He recommends products endorsed by the Veterinary Oral Health Council that carry the VOHC seal, which generally are not as widely available.
“It’s like having an ADA seal,” he said, adding that there are diet products, chews, oral rinses and brushless toothpastes that can all improve your pet’s oral health.
Greenfield says he does not charge for re-check exams following procedures. He also has an office in Little Rock, Arkansas, and he does not aim to do a volume business there or in Memphis. His website is yourpetdentist.com.
“We don’t run a factory here,” he said. “On average, we see three patients a day. It’s uplifting to know that when you’re done, they’re happier.
“I love what I do.”