Talking teeth with timid clients

Chew on this advice for improving dental compliance at your practice.
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Jun 01, 2008


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What is it about a pet's mouth that's most unappetizing? The layers of crunchy, multicolored tartar? The receding, inflamed gums? The smell—putrid fish in cats, and in dogs ... ugh, let's not talk about it. Instead let's discuss what you can do to get clients on board with your recommendations for dental procedures and oral health products. When you clean up the mouth, the bacteria-filled gateway to a pet's body, you'll start seeing a more pleasant color: green.

If your dental compliance isn't great, start by taking an attitude cue from Lori Bollinger, RVT, a technician at Camelot Court Animal Clinic in Leawood, Kan., who's certified in dental work. "I love working in the mouth," she says. "It's amazing how long a dog will live if you keep its teeth clean." Bollinger's success with oral health compliance has steadily increased over the years. Here are her not-so-tricky tricks of the trade.

Show clients the mouth. "We call it 'show and tell to sell,'" Bollinger says of the time she and the doctor spend pulling back a pet's lips and revealing where that smell is coming from. Most clients never look inside their dog's mouth—even fewer cat owners take that perilous peek.

Explain dental charges. Clients sometimes balk at the total bill, but Bollinger takes the time to explain each item before the procedure. She tells them that a dental cleaning at Camelot Court includes a full CBC and serum chemistry profile, anesthesia with complete monitoring, pain management, an IV catheter, and a stretch of technician time spent scraping plaque and chipping away at tartar. Blood work is important because certain values let the doctor know that bacteria are flourishing and a timely dental procedure is crucial. Anesthesia is required for the animal's comfort. An antibiotic injection before the procedure protects against infection.

Tell clients how to prevent problems. Bollinger recommends a sealant that she applies and that clients maintain at home. She suggests dental-friendly treats, rinses, and diets. She gives free toothpaste samples and toothbrushes to any client who asks.

Discover your favorite products. Bollinger attended dental conferences, talked to doctors who love dental work, and tried out products before she settled on her favorites. Sometimes pets didn't like them, clients didn't like them, or she didn't see results—so she stopped using them. If clients aren't sure their dog or cat will like a dental food, Bollinger recommends they try a little bag of the dental diet as a treat before they commit to a large bag.

Compliance takes time, Bollinger says. Sometimes you'll clean a pet's teeth and explain to the owner about at-home care, and the client will nod yes, yes, yes. Then a year or two later, the patient will return with a mouthful of disease. Bollinger says sometimes her message doesn't sink in until the second or third cleaning—but it does sink in eventually. So don't sweat it if you get a lot of "no thanks" responses. Like the plaque on pets' teeth, your words will stick eventually.

Click hereto learn about how touchscreens boost dental compliance at one veterinarian's practice.

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