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Are you Promoting Dentistry in your Veterinary Practice all Year Round?

Posted in Festival of All Things Dental @ Aug 21st 2013 - By Dr Natasha Wilks BVSc
Natasha Wilks

Dental month may be a focus for August but pets have tartar, gingivitis, fractured teeth and sore mouths all year.

We don’t just magically see all the dentals in August.  For some practices, after dental month is finished, the rate of dental procedures decreases dramatically.

How are you communicating with your clients about dental health & prevention for their pets?

I had a friend tell me the other day, she had never had her dogs teeth done as she had never been told she needed to do it.  I strongly advised her that they had to be done ASAP as both had Grade 4 Periodontal disease with extractions needed.

Now was this really the case that she had never been told by her veterinarian?  I doubt it.

It’s just her veterinarian probably didn’t explicitly state like I had, that they both needed a dental procedure due to dental disease.  I told her each dog had pus coming from their gums and they had rotten teeth and needed dentals immediately.  

Unfortunately, clients hear what they want to hear unless you are very specific & directive in your communication.

The language you use is very important and the way it is delivered.  Use the word ‘need’ or ‘must’.  Convey certainty with your voice which will indicate you believe in the procedure and its importance for their pet. 

If you are uncertain and wavering in your voice, it will unconsciously indicate to the client that you don’t believe in what you are discussing.  Saying to a client that they need to ‘keep an eye on these teeth’ will lead clients to believe that nothing was wrong.

How do you communicate the importance of a dental procedure for pets with grade 1 periodontal disease compared to a grade 4?  I think most vets have no hesitation advising a dental for a pet with rotten teeth but they struggle at the early stages.  I know I did.

I want you to consider what is causing your hesitation with regard to dentistry?

Is it the price? 

Do you feel it is too expensive and clients can’t afford it so you wait until they really need the dental?

Is it your equipment? 

(Trust me, I have worked with suboptimal equipment that makes you want to tear your hair out.  I hear you!)  However, I recognised how much was due the equipment and how much was my technique.

Is it a lack of confidence? 

Do you dislike dentals as you’ve had previous frustrating experiences.

Is it because you don’t know how to talk to clients about it? 

Do you just dislike dentistry? 

Is it because clients say no and you have given up discussing it when clients don’t seem interested? 

You need to evaluate what is causing your hesitation and take steps to become comfortable with recommending dental procedures.

For every animal you identify an issue and don’t communicate the need, that pet will stay in pain with the condition becoming worse over another year until their next checkup. 

There are clients out there who don’t appreciate the importance of clean teeth and a healthy mouth.  It is our job to educate them. 

Start educating your clients when their pets are puppies so they will know when a dental is needed.

Steps to follow in the consultation to help educate your clients

1.  Examine the animals mouth and identify the problem

2.  Show the owner the problem you have found

It is helpful to have a chart with varying degrees of periodontal disease so the client can see what grade of tartar and gingivitis their pet has.  At all times use layman’s terms.  Clients do not understand periodontal disease and are more likely to say no if you confuse them.

3.   Explain how this will be affecting their pet. 

This is where you will commonly hear clients say ‘he’s not in pain’ or ‘he’s still eating’.  Clients don’t want to feel judged, or for us to think they are neglectful.  It is very important to explain to clients in a supportive manner that their pet will commonly keep eating until it is so severe that they can’t. 

4.   Educate the client on the importance of the dental procedure.

5.   Explain what a dental procedure involves for the stage of problem their pet has.  

This is very important as you will be managing the expectations of the client with regard to the procedure.  Tell them it involves an anaesthetic and why you have to do this.  Explain about dental radiographs, nerve blocks, antibiotics, tooth removal and anti-inflammatories if indicated.

6.   Explain what will happen if they choose to do nothing. 

This is very important!!  You need to explain to clients if they choose to do nothing, it will get worse.  This leads to increasing discomfort to their pets, a larger procedure and an increased cost to them.

7.   Discuss the estimate of the procedure. 

Remember to explain that the costs may increase depending on what else may be found.  Find language you are comfortable with.  Tom Cat advises using the term ‘Healthcare plan’ instead of estimate.   Others use cost, price, investment. 

8.   Ask to book the procedure in & indicate in what time frame. 

9.  Give your client a dental handout and/or send an ebook. 

Usually there is another person at home who has to be involved in the decision making regarding the procedure.  Use visual aids and more information to ensure they understand as unfortunately clients only retain a small percentage of what we tell them.  You don’t want the person at home to only hear ‘the vet wants to charge $800 for a sore tooth’ as they will most likely say no.

Steps to follow on the day of the dental procedure

1.   Have an admission consult explaining the procedure & the importance of clean teeth.

You are reiterating to the client why they made the correct choice in having the procedure done. 

2.   Give the client before & after photos at discharge.

When we started doing this clients loved it! It helps for clients to see the value of the procedure and the difference a dental has made.  Remember most clients don’t even look at their pets teeth.

Steps to follow post dental check

1.   Educate your client about dental hygiene & prevention.

2.  Manage the clients expectations regarding their pets teeth. 

Some pets will require regular cleaning due to misalignment, disease, poor diet or owners not willing or able to keep the teeth clean.  It can be frustrating for an owner to hear their pet needs another dental when they believed that because it had one last year that’s all it will need for the rest of its life.

Now is a good time to listen to yourself...

I want you to listen to yourself and become aware of how you are discussing dental health and recommending preventative care and procedures to your clients.

Are you conveying certainty and belief in the benefits of clean teeth and a healthy mouth?

If not, determine what is causing your hesitation and work to overcome that.  Follow the steps above and soon it will be second nature.

We are in the business of client education and clients only know as much as we teach them in these areas.

Remember that dentals are a procedure and a very important one at that.  Do not discount them in your mind as they are only a ‘dental’.  They are as important to a pet’s healthcare as vaccination and heartworm prevention.  

I would be interested to hear of any other tips you may have to help educate clients on the importance of dental health.  Tell me in the comments section below.

Natasha Wilks, BVSc, DipCoaching, a Veterinarian & Coach created High Performance Vets to help veterinarians succeed in their career.  Natasha works with veterinarians worldwide to overcome the challenges in practice, create a career strategy, learn how to communicate with clients & increase their income.

 

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