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Success vs Failure in your veterinary dental program - It boils down to two things

Posted in Festival of All Things Dental @ Aug 14th 2014 - By Dr Christine Hawke, Small Animal Dental Veterinarian, Sydney Pet Dentistry
Success Vs Failure For Your Dental Program

Success in veterinary dental programs relies on having well trained staff that believe in dental care..

The results of last year’s Vetanswers Dental Survey (Survey results: Dentistry in your veterinary practice - a success or just painful?) are very interesting when it comes to developing and implementing a successful dental program in your veterinary practice. While your answers have provided much food for thought, I think the most interesting responses are those around what makes a dental program a success or a failure.

In my own experience working one-on-one with many practices to improve the dental health of their patients, I have noticed an increasing dichotomy in the levels of dental care between different practices – some have thriving dental programs (with healthy patients, happy clients, empowered staff and solid businesses), while others struggle daily against the tide of dental disinterest and apathy that saps their will to keep recommending treatments that are overwhelmingly not followed through on.

Boiling it right down, success relies on having well trained staff that believe in dental care, and can communicate a consistent message to clients about the importance of this for their pets. On the flip side, if staff don’t believe dental health is a priority, and don’t feel clients view it as a priority either, then large numbers of patients go home with untreated disease, and the game is lost.

There are two points to really address within yourself and your practice:

1.      Does dental care really matter?

You bet! At risk of sounding like a broken record, dental health is VITAL for our patients’ health and welfare. Dental disease is arguably the biggest health problem that we are grossly underservicing!! If you are not doing many dental procedures, then most of your patients are not getting the care they actually NEED to treat disease they already HAVE.  This is not an elective or cosmetic thing, we are talking about infection and pain that affects both their systemic health and quality of life. I feel many vets and nurses have trouble ‘selling’ dental procedures as they have a deep fear of ‘overservicing’ their patients, which tells me that, even though they agree dental care is important, they don’t really believe this at a deeper level. It might be time to really think through the health implications of poor oral health – if you or your staff don’t believe it is a real issue, then of course your clients won’t believe it either.

2.      Will clients pay for dental care?

Absolutely – but they need to know that there is a problem – and most are unaware of this. While there are always going to be clients who can’t afford much veterinary care, most of those coming to you will try and do the best for their pets IF they understand the impact that oral infection is having on their pet’s quality of life. I like to think of periodontal disease as a bad abscess or soft tissue infection that involves a large proportion of the oral cavity, because this is what it really is!  

  • Pockets of pus? Check!
  • Soft tissue inflammation and pain? Check!

And in addition we also have:  

  • Permanent destruction of bone (would this be even vaguely acceptable in other parts of the body??).  
  • Bacteraemia with widespread effects on the liver, heart and kidneys.  

If we saw a huge cat fight abscess, or anal gland abscess, or any other easily visible abscess, would most of your clients feel that treatment (and the associated costs) was worthwhile? Just because dental disease is hidden in the dark, and animals can hide it from their owners (as long as they are eating they must be healthy??), does not mean it is unimportant. They just need to be shown what is really going on!

Removing the Barriers – Training is the Key

With the majority of respondents in the Vetanswers Dental Survey raising the issues of time and location as barriers to training themselves and their staff, this is obviously something that we need to address if we are going to be able to move forward and improve our dental services.

An approach that is becoming increasingly popular is in-house training. A huge shift in the attitude of your entire staff can be achieved in a few hours, on a normal workday, in your own practice, in your own town. The whole team, from vets to nurses to receptionists, can participate together, allowing you to develop a cohesive, consistent approach to dental care in your practice.

It is not so much trying to teach ‘marketing skills’, but more about revealing the true welfare implications of poor dental health, and empowering your staff to be able to truly change their patients’ lives for the better. It is less about ‘selling’ procedures than advocating for our patients, as they cannot speak for themselves when their disease is so well hidden from the untrained eye. When your team believe in the benefits of dental treatment, and feel empowered to communicate these to your clients, success will follow.

Feel free to ask Christine any questions in the comments section below.  If you are interested in finding out more about in-house training in dental care for your team you can also contact Christine for more information.   

Dr Christine Hawke graduated as a vet from the University of Sydney in 1993, and spent four years in general practice both in Australia and the UK, during which time she disliked dentistry immensely. She returned to the University of Sydney in 1999, and completed her PhD in immunogenetics of autoimmune disease in 2003. After a break to start a family, Christine returned to the Faculty of Veterinary Science as a lecturer, where she developed an unexpected passion for small animal dentistry. 

Christine sat her ANZCVS memberships in Veterinary Dentistry in 2006, and is a member of both the Dental Chapter of the ANZCVS and the Australian Veterinary Dental Society (a SIG of the AVA). She founded Sydney Pet Dentistry in 2007, and divides her time between clinical dentistry and teaching all aspects of small animal dentistry to vets, vet nurses, and undergraduate students. 

Click here to visit 'Sydney Pet Dentistry' website 



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