7 ways to give veterinary dental recommendations - Veterinary Economics
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7 ways to give veterinary dental recommendations
Feeling tongue-tied when veterinary clients refuse dental treatment for their pets? Here's a mouthful of ideas on how to emphasize the importance of complete oral care.



To a veterinarian it's obvious that a scaling under sedation is in no way comparable to a complete oral exam with radiographs performed under general anesthesia. However, a client may not appreciate the difference. When your technician presents an estimate for $600—including a preanesthetic blood panel, intravenous fluids, general anesthesia, supragingival and subgingival scaling and polishing, periodontal probing, and dental radiographs—many clients look at just the bottom line. We need to help clients understand that they're looking at apples, not oranges. Here are some ideas on how to do that:

Don't sugarcoat the facts. "Dentistry is the most variable procedure you can get at any clinic," says Dr. Ian Giebelhaus, co-owner of Rimbey Veterinary Clinic in Rimbey, Alberta, Canada. "With neutering, you can take 10 male cats into 10 different clinics with different surgeons, pre-op exams, and premeds, but at the end of the day all 10 cats will have two fewer testicles. Dentals aren't like that—procedures vary widely; therefore, so does the cost."

When helping veterinary clients understand the difference in levels of care, Dr. Giebelhaus uses an analogy: "I have two red 1968 Mustangs for sale at my house," he tells them. "One costs $3,000 and the other costs $15,000. Do you think they're the same?"

Divulge dirty details. One of the most important things clients must understand is that a surface cleaning doesn't detect or address potential hidden pathology—in fact, it does patients a disservice. Dr. Fraser Hale, FAVD, DAVDC, owner of Hale Veterinary Clinic in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, uses this comparison with clients: "A bridge that collapses after standing solidly for decades didn't rot overnight," he says. "It underwent gradual and hidden decay over many years, which eventually reached a critical threshold. Then the problem became obvious."

Define the difference. Dr. Dale Kressin, FAVD, DAVDC, owner of Animal Dentistry and Oral Surgery Specialists in Oshkosh, Wis., explains the difference in terms of the pet's well-being. He compares a simple teeth scaling to grooming, which makes the pet look better, as opposed to a comprehensive oral treatment, which makes the pet feel better.

Picture this. Dr. Janice Niedermeier, owner of Healthy Companions Veterinary Clinic in Janesville, Wis., takes the show-and-tell approach. She keeps a photo of a tooth and its corresponding radiograph in her exam room. The photo shows what appears to be a relatively healthy tooth, but the radiograph shows severe bone lysis and resorptive changes—obvious even to pet owners. After showing the photos and radiographs to clients, she says, "I'd be disappointed in myself if I charged you to care for Muffy's mouth and teeth and missed something as damaging and painful as this."


Even dental specialists are susceptible to client pushback against recommendations. "At my hospital we often end up finding even more severe problems than what the referring veterinarian noted," Dr. Kressin says. "So we must continually educate the owners on the value of our services." His guiding principle? Value = perception price. So if the price is high, then perception of value must also be high. "I educate clients to elevate their perception of the need for the services and to explain the procedures," Dr. Kressin says. "The more I educate, the higher the value rises for the client."

Veterinary client education can be facilitated by the use of anatomic models, photos, and written handouts. Dr. Lisa Bennett, owner of Beaver Lake Animal Hospital in Issaquah, Wash., relies on handouts to explain the differences between dental prophylaxis and dental treatment, to outline her anesthetic protocols, and to detail the procedures that will be performed, from preanesthetic blood testing to local nerve blocks. Turn to page 20 for a dental client handout you can use at your practice.

Dr. Bennett also likes to use an automotive analogy with clients: "If you take good care of your car with regular oil and filter changes, the cost is minimal compared to having to rebuild the engine or transmission."

This means it's best to start educating clients early—while the pet is still a puppy or kitten—about preventive dental home care and the likely need for dentistry when the pet gets older.



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