Every dentist surely has a story about the most difficult patient they’ve encountered. Well, Tina Brandon Abbatangelo, DDS, has them all beat.
When the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) School of Dental Medicine professor isn’t treating patients or supervising student apprentices at the campus’ dental clinic, she’s traveling nationwide to perform advanced dental work on exotic animals — including lions, tigers, and bears — as a volunteer with the Peter Emily International Veterinary Dental Foundation.
Her experience and advocacy with our four-legged friends has led to a new children’s book.
And did we mention that when she’s not building crowns, she’s wearing them? Brandon Abbatangelo is the current Ms. Nevada — a two-time winner of that title, which is part of the Ms. America pageant. Her platform for each pageant furthers the mission of the Peter Emily Foundation and raises awareness about animal dentistry and the exotic animal trade.
Brandon Abbatangelo’s road to dentistry began as a young girl, when a toothache landed her in the dentist’s chair.
“The pain in my mouth was so bad, I was pulled out of school for the visit,” Brandon Abbatangelo said. “I needed a root canal, and was in the chair for quite a while. But what I remember most was the dentist. He was very sweet and kept telling me how brave I was, and that everything would be fine. Moment by moment, I felt pain going away. I felt safe and comforted, and have not forgotten that feeling.”
Call of the Wild
A routine health exam for her pet launched a new passion in 2002 — treating dental disease in exotic animals.
While examining Brandon Abbatangelo’s new puppy, the veterinarian asked for help setting up a new X-ray machine. The dentist returned regularly to help train staff on the equipment and during one of those visits a vet tech brought her cat in for a root canal. Brandon Abbatangelo assisted with the procedure, which led to other collaborations with the vet office on dental work on a few dogs.
Over the next few years, she participated in various veterinary dental forums and hands-on courses. But it was during a 2006 convention presentation by the Peter Emily Foundation’s namesake that her interest in animal dentistry accelerated to full-blown commitment. The non-profit foundation relies on veterinarians and dentists who volunteer their time to treat exotic animals at underfunded and understaffed rescues and sanctuaries.
Since then, Brandon Abbatangelo has been on over 15 missions with the foundation and has more scheduled for 2018. The foundation routinely visits sanctuaries, including the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Indiana, and the Wildlife Waystation in Sylmar, California.
Some of her more memorable patients include a Colobus monkey named Billy Ray, a 450 lb. grizzly bear named Ms. Montana, a black leopard named Jade, and Sirabi, a maneless 575 lb. lion.
Brandon Abbatangelo lectures and teaches veterinarians hands-on procedures in primate dentistry at annual forums. That is, when she’s not fulfilling other tour duties.
Brandon Abbatangelo drew on her dentistry background to win the Ms. Nevada crown in both 2016 and 2018. She advanced to the Ms. America portion, where she came in fourth this year. Both years she has won “The Power of the Crown Award”, which highlights contestants who have used their crown to empower women through community service.
She’s now focused on spreading awareness of her veterinary dentistry platform to children. Earlier this year, Brandon Abbatangelo added author to her list of accomplishments with the publication of “Animal Dentistry Adventures with Dr. Tabby, Animal Dentist Extraordinaire.”
The title character helps animals around the world with their dental needs, and the book — cowritten with her husband and self-published via a partnership with the American Dental Association’s Institute for Diversity in Leadership — includes a nod to the Peter Emily Foundation.
Her goal is to plant the seed early with children that animals need dental care too, and to respect animals in their own habitat. She’s now working on a second book with a dream to turn her stories into a major network cartoon show.