As a vet tech working in general practice, you will probably discuss dental care with nearly all of your patients.
Whether you’re recommending home care to a new puppy owner, recommending a dental cleaning to the owner of a middle-aged pet, or calling a client during their pet’s dental procedure to recommend extractions, it’s important to be comfortable making recommendations in a way that improves client compliance.
Talking to Clients About Home Care
Ideally, every pet owner should brush their pet’s teeth once daily. This allows the removal of plaque before it hardens into tartar. Don’t just tell clients that they should brush their pet’s teeth daily; explain why, so they understand why you are making this recommendation.
Once clients understand the “why” of home dental care, you can get into the “how.” Many owners are intimidated by the idea of brushing their pet’s teeth because they don’t know where to start. Describe tooth brushing technique in detail and, if possible, demonstrate the technique on the pet. Once they understand what’s involved, many clients find the idea less intimidating.
Talk to clients about making daily toothbrushing rewarding and enjoyable for their pet. Pet toothpaste is already designed to be tasty for dogs and cats, so the toothpaste itself often serves as positive reinforcement. If this toothpaste is accompanied by some praise and affection, many pets will readily tolerate brushing. The key is for owners to start small, letting their pet taste the toothpaste on the end of the toothbrush and gradually building to brushing the teeth over a period of days or even weeks.
If clients are unwilling or unable to brush their pet’s teeth, talk to them about home care options. Although oral hygiene rinses, dental chews, and other alternatives are not as helpful as brushing, they’re likely to offer some benefit and may be all that an owner can manage right now.
Regardless of which type of home care a client elects, do your best to ensure that they go home with the supplies they need. We’re all busy people, and even a client who intends to purchase supplies at the pet store may forget to do so. Sending the client home with dental home care supplies eliminates one barrier to the pet getting the dental care they need.
Recommending Routine Dental Cleanings
Presenting dental estimates to clients can be a challenge. Clients often question the need for an anesthetized dental cleaning, and they are often caught off-guard by the high prices that can accompany a dental cleaning (including pre-anesthetic bloodwork, general anesthesia, and dental x-rays).
When you present a dental treatment plan, focus on the procedure itself. Explain every single service that the pet will receive that day, walking the client through their pet’s experience from beginning to end. Explain the purpose of each step in the process, and highlight steps that your team takes to make dentistry as safe as possible for the patient. Try to avoid an initial focus on price; instead, emphasize all of the services that will be provided and then inform the owner of the cost associated with these services. This presentation style helps the client understand the value of a dental cleaning.
Encourage the client to ask questions. Many clients have concerns about anesthesia or have heard myths and rumors about what is involved in anesthesia or dentistry. Give the client an opportunity to express any concerns, so you can address those concerns head-on.
Explain to the client that treatment plans are just estimates. In many cases, once the pet is anesthetized and radiographs are taken, additional dental disease is found. A pet may need extractions or other treatments. Talk to the client about how you handle those findings. In most practices, clients are called during the procedure in an effort to obtain authorization for additional services that may be needed. Less commonly, the patient is recovered without performing those additional services, and the client is sent home with an estimate, so they can schedule a second procedure at their convenience.
Be prepared to offer suggestions for clients who have financial concerns. If your practice offers CareCredit®, talk to clients about that option. Some practices also offer wellness plans and other options that may help make the cost of a dental cleaning more palatable. If your practice doesn’t offer CareCredit or wellness plans, perhaps there are non-profits in your area that help clients pay for needed veterinary care. Know your options, so you can help clients address financial barriers to their pet’s care.
Presenting Treatments Plans for Dental Extractions
Once a pet is anesthetized for a dental cleaning, a thorough exam and/or radiographs may reveal lesions that were not visible while the pet was awake. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for additional services, such as extractions, to be recommended during a dental cleaning. While the veterinarian is the one who must perform the oral evaluation and make treatment recommendations, calling the client to obtain approval for extractions is often the responsibility of the vet tech.
Just like in your presentation of a dental cleaning treatment plan, focus on what the pet needs and why. Explain the possible impacts of leaving a diseased tooth untreated, including pain and osteomyelitis. Highlight why these services are in the best interest of the pet, before shifting the conversation to focus on costs.
Ensure that you have a full understanding of the costs associated with the pet’s treatment. In most cases, the extraction itself is not the only charge that accompanies a dental extraction. Clients may also be expected to pay for a local anesthetic block, post-extraction radiographs (to ensure no root tips were left behind), pain medications, and antibiotics. In most cases, those additional services can be more expensive than the extraction itself, so be sure that you have an accurate estimate of costs before contacting the client so there are no surprises when the owner arrives to pick up their pet.
Again, be prepared to discuss CareCredit or other payment options if necessary. Hopefully, the client was aware that there could be additional charges for extractions and has planned accordingly.
When recommending dental products and services, it’s important to be aware of barriers that may prevent clients from providing quality care. Whether it’s a lack of available time, simple forgetfulness, anesthetic concerns, or financial constraints, these barriers can interfere with a pet’s care and overall health. In order to improve client compliance, your responsibility is to educate clients about the importance of veterinary dental care, then work with them to address as many barriers to care as possible. By using this approach, you can maximize the dental care that your patients receive and maximize their overall oral health.