According to the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have periodontal disease by age 3. Do your clients know that untreated gum and tooth diseases can be dangerous and lead to diabetes; heart, liver, kidney, and respiratory diseases; and a weakened immune system? Are clients aware that with proper oral health, they can extend their pet’s life 2–5 years?
Are your team members knowledgeable about the risks of periodontal disease? Are you satisfied with compliance for dental recommendations in your hospital? Consider these strategies in the pyramid to strengthen or build your dental program.
Build team ownership
From the receptionist to the technician to the kennel staff, all team members must understand the difference dental care can make and deliver a consistent message. Training your team is the vital key to successful program implementation:
- Encourage the use of a dental health advocate.
- Have your team’s own pets go through a dental examination.
- Create protocols and scripts for each phase of the client experience: check-in, examination room, check-out, and follow-up.
- Monitor and report on client response.
- Provide team members with ongoing education about current dental issues.
Provide a variety of educational tools
For clients to follow dental health recommendations, they must fully understand the issue and see the benefits of the investment for themselves and their pet. Persistence and consistency is the key. Some clients need to hear a message 8–12 times before they respond or recognize its importance. Use a variety of teaching tools:
- Have clients complete the Dental Grades Report Card (above) during their pet’s examination.
- Hang framed dental grading pictures in each examination room.
- Give clients handouts, provide educational videos, or put displays in the waiting area that teach techniques for oral health care, the risks of dental disease, and the potential savings of prevention versus treatment at later stages of the disease—both for the pet and the client’s wallet.
- Give clients an overview of what they can do at home.
- Create a book for the waiting area that illustrates the dental cleaning process with before-and-after photos.
- Partner with vendors to sponsor an open house to educate clients about dental disease and provide free dental gradings and dental kits.
- Include dental care information in puppy and kitten kits.
- Create a medical care plan that clearly spells out each procedure and the costs for dental cleanings, including preanesthesia, blood work, monitoring, and rechecks. Include a narrative emphasizing high quality medicine, the safety of the procedure, comprehensive discharge instructions.
Identify potential clients
Based on the 2009 AAHA Compliance Follow-up Study, only about 38% of pet owners schedule a cleaning for their pets when it is recommended.
- Run a report to identify pets that have not had a dental examination in the last 12 months and send the clients a targeted mailing.
- Tag the computer records to easily identify clients.
- Mention dental examinations on wellness-visit reminders.
- Add a “dental recommended” services code to travel sheets.
- Send clients a newsletter that includes items about the importance of pets’ oral health care.
- Post articles about dental health on your website and Facebook page.
Evaluate individual patient needs
Update your protocols to ensure that every time a patient is examined, his or her dental grade is checked and documented. Take digital photos of the patient’s teeth to track any disease progression. Give the client a copy of the photo along with the Dental Grade Report card.
- Update your lifestyle evaluation forms to include a field to record the dental grade score.
- Create scripts for technicians to address clients’ questions.
- Include a current photo of the animal’s teeth on his or her Dental Grades Report Card for comparison at the next visit.
- Have dental models in every examination room.
Build a bridge to action
This is where you make a strong recommendation, check for understanding, and reinforce the benefits of good dental care for clients and their pets. Provide clear, complete, written recommendations that include interim steps to reach and maintain good oral health (eg, regular cleanings, preventive home oral-care routine).
Ask the client for a commitment to action. Address any concerns using this 5-step process:
- Acknowledge: Understand the client’s concern
- Clarify: Pinpoint or confirm understanding
- Answer: Match the client’s and pet’s needs with a product or service benefit, show how the benefits outweigh concerns, and follow up with supporting information
- Verify: Check acceptance of your answer; if client is not satisfied, reclarify
- Close: When the answer to Step 4 is yes, ask for a commitment; continue if concerns are present; and close when the conversation is complete.
Reinforce action and foster loyalty
Set reminders to follow up cleaning recommendations and schedule appointments. After the cleaning is performed, offer the following services:
- Complete, written discharge instructions that help the client understand what is normal and usual after the procedure.
- Before-and-after pictures.
- A personal call one day and one week after the procedure to see how the patient is faring and to schedule an office checkup 2 weeks after the procedure to provide hands-on, home-care training.
- An oral healthcare gift bag of Greenies, dental healthcare products, diet food, and a next-purchase coupon.
With these changes, you and your team should be ready for dental health success. Your clients and their pets will thank you for the comfort and quality of life they gain.
©Mary Ann Vande Linde, DVM, Vande Linde & Associates, Brunswick, Georgia