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Dental care from top to bottom
Everything you ever wanted to know about building a successful dental program but were afraid to ask.


DVM Best Practices


Next, develop educational materials for staff members and clients. I also recommend encouraging staff members to pursue training through many of the online or home-study dental technician programs ( http://www.avdt.us and http://www.asvdt.org/). Schedule several staff training sessions to review the basic information, answer staff questions, and role-play. Teach all staff members how to identify basic periodontal disease and to communicate the negative impact of oral disease on pets' health. After all, you never know when an opportunity to promote good dental care will present itself.

Finally, make sure each client hears and understands your dental message. The key is to lift the lip of every patient during every visit and make recommendations every time. Use patient questionnaires that target oral health during routine exams to ensure staff members discuss dental care at every visit. (See "Creating the dental experience") Be sure to document the stage of periodontal disease and any abnormalities along with your dental care recommendations on each exam or discharge report. Consistency creates credibility, so if you emphasize dentistry during one visit and ignore it the next, you're sending a mixed message. Don't take rejection personally and vow not to discuss dentistry with the client again. It may take several visits before clients accept your recommendations.

Home dental care Plaque begins accumulating on the teeth in as little as six hours after a dental scaling and polishing. To help prevent plaque and calculus formation after a dental prophylaxis,encourage pet owners to consider an assortment of innovative and effective home care products. For example, OraVet? gel (Merial) is a product initially applied immediately after a dental prophylaxis at the veterinary hospital. This invisible barrier prevents the bacteria that cause plaque from attaching to the tooth surface, reducing plaque and calculus formation. Clients can then reapply the product at home once a week. This is a great alternative to brushing.

Let's face it: Few veterinarians, much less clients, brush their pets' teeth every day. While I mention daily brushing to my clients, I admit that I don't brush my pets' teeth daily. In fact, since I don't, my pets undergo dental prophylaxis at least once a year. I don't expect my clients to do something that I don't do. Once-a-week application of OraVet is more manageable, even for someone as busy as a veterinarian. Several gels, rinses, and treats are also available to help keep pets' mouths healthy and fresh. (To learn more about veterinary dental products, see "New oral health care products")

We also recommend diets proved to reduce calculus to every client. These diets have tremendously improved pets' well-being, and we're professionally obligated to inform clients that diets can help fight plaque and calculus and provide optimal nutrition for their pets' life stage.

The true secret to a successful dental program is perseverance. We're advocates for our patients; we don't give up the fight at the first sign of trouble. Dental care is one of the most underutilized and underserved opportunities in veterinary medicine. It's also one of our biggest growth opportunities. As the pet population ages and competition for clients escalates, the deciding factor will be not only the number of patients you see, but the number of times a year you see patients and the quality of medicine you provide.

Remember, building a successful dental program isn't just about making money; it's about giving your patients the highest quality care. When you take the time to teach clients about the dangers of periodontal disease, the result is happier, healthier patients.

References 1. Joshipura, K.J. et al.: Periodontal disease, tooth loss, and incidence of ischemic stroke. Stroke 34 (1):47-52, 2003.

2. Bellows, J.: Small Animal Dental Equipment, Materials, and Techniques: A Primer. Blackwell Publishing, Malden, Mass., 2004.

3. Holstrom, S.E. et al.: Veterinary Dental Techniques for the Small Animal Practitioner. W.B. Saunders, Philadelphia, Pa., 1992.


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