The dentistry pep talk you need
It was like magic. Pet owners didn't believe it. It was dentistry.
"No one told them this would make 9- and 10-year-old animals act like puppies and kittens again," says Dave Nicol, BVMS, CVC speaker and practice consultant, of results he and others saw with a new focus on dental cleaning and extractions years ago when he hit private practice for the first time. "I could see a niche, and I knew I could get good at this."
So, Nicol saw the results were great. And pet owners seemed happy after the fact. Now it was a matter of fighting a preventive war in a veterinary world of "broken leg" responses.
"It's very easy to sell something to someone when something is broken. A broken leg is easy, but a broken mouth? If they'd known it was 'broken,' they would have come in before then," Nicol says. "Dental problems all happen in slow motion, and pet owners assume it's just their animal getting older."
Here are parts of Nicol's "secret sauce" that helped him take a bite out of his patients' dentistry problems—and, maybe more importantly, get pet owners to see the value in paying for it:
1. If you know it, you can teach it to newbies
"You can teach a new veterinary graduate in six months to do good-quality dentistry—with scaling, polishing, extracting and radiographing—in 80 to 90 percent of the cases you'll see," Nicol says.
That's important work for patients, and lucrative work for your practice. It's work you can train, oversee and hand off to a talented associate interested in dentistry.
2. It's a condition that never goes away
"Here, you have an oil field with a well that refills," Nicol says of dental cleanings, with have become the norm in human dentistry. And why not in veterinary practice too in time?
"It's like a chronic disease we're all born with," he says.
3. It's still a niche for the GP
Nicol watches the fragmentation of veterinary practice and sees dentistry as another targeted niche that won't dry up. Just as in human mouths, Increasing plaque and bacteria in pets' mouths has "a 100 percent incidence rate," Nicol says.
4. You can handle their fears about it in exam room conversations
You're worried about, or you're facing, resistance from pet owners when you suggest cleanings and extractions. If you're making strong recommendations and valuing your work, Nicol doesn't think it's the Money Monster that's always scaring away a client with a pet who needs the work. After all, you've recognized the disease there, you've flipped the lip and shown clients what's happening, and you've demonstrated that there's pain and future or very real current problems associated with the teeth and the gums.
Money might not be the biggest fear you'll need to overcome: It's the Anesthesia Monster.
"As soon as you have to talk about an anesthetic, it's like you parachuted in a monster," Nicol says. "And you have to be prepared to slay that monster."
The biggest reason to skip dental work is not that clients can't afford it—it's that they're scared of it. "So address where the fear points are and make sure the motivators pile up and the fears shrink," he says.
> Fear of cost. See above.
> Fear of death. "They want to know, 'Will my pet die?'" Nicol says. "So we can tell them we've done it for X number of years and never lost an animal during a dental procedure. We do blood work, and we monitor the anesthesia with a trainer nurse."
> Fear of eating problems. "They think the animal won't be able to eat if we take the teeth away. They will," Nicol says. "They'll eat without pain. I mean, the pet's already not using those knackered teeth."
> Fear of losing too many teeth. "They'll ask, 'You want to take out HOW many teeth?'" Nicol says. "But dogs have 42 adult teeth, cats have 30. You need to be able to rattle off those two numbers by heart."
5. Show it, don't just talk about it
Forget Grade 1, Grade 2, grade whatever with clients. "Clients don't care about grades," Nicol says.
Just show off pictures (and radiographs) of good, clean mouths; pictures of "a bit" messed-up mouths; and totally ruined mouths. "You tell them, 'Here's where the dental disease is. Here's where we need to get it back to," he says.
6. Don't give up
"You ticked the box, you wrote on the record you recommended it so now they can't sue you," Nicol says. But then starts the real work: "You need to take action and overcome objections."
"When do we give up on being held accountable for a pet's health with our recommendations?" Nicol asks. "We never stop, until they leave our practice."