You know the routine all too well: Mr. Smith visits with his rambunctious English springer spaniel, Burt, and all goes well until you mention Burt's oral health. Enter the blank stare. Or the anxious shifting from foot to foot. Or even the hasty, "Oh, he's fine!"
Few conversations are trickier than getting clients on board with proper dental care. But serious health issues can stem from a messy mouth, so it's up to you to drive home just how important it is that Burt gets the dental care his health depends on.
STEP 1: Getting started
"You have to start educating the client about oral care from the first visit," says Sara L. Sharp, CVT, VTS (Dentistry), secretary of the Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians. "Every time a patient walks through your clinic's door, lift the pet's lip and look at the mouth. Pretty soon, the client's going to wonder what you're looking at and pay attention."
At Windsor Veterinary Clinic in Windsor, Colo., the preventive oral health program begins with each wellness exam. "Nurses and doctors thoroughly check the health of teeth and gums," says Michael Hernandez, a veterinary assistant at the practice. "Then we show owners any problems, such as any abnormalities in bite, periodontal issues, dental calculi, gingivitis, or oral tumors, and the doctor discusses these issues with the client at length."
They also preach at-home oral care, Hernandez says. Trained veterinary nurses discuss toothbrushing in the exam room, where they offer a daily brushing recommendation.
12 Answers to clients' top questions
"We use dental models to show areas of high concern and we brush the pet's teeth to show how to brush correctly," he says. "By showing how to brush the teeth in the exam room, family members can see how easy toothbrushing can be at home. And for owners who can't use a toothbrush, we recommend brushing with cotton gauze wrapped around the finger with toothpaste daubed on the end."
Each client leaves the practice with a dental care package. Goodies include a list of common questions and answers a seven-day summary with pictures called "How to Brush Your Pet's Teeth," a bevy of brochures, a free toothbrush, sample toothpaste, and a sample dental rawhide chew.
Likewise, at the Animal Care Center of Pasco County in New Port Richey, Fla., dental visits come stocked with plenty of client education. "We do before-and-after photographs, which clients love," says practice manager Michelle Guercio, CVT, CVPM. "We also give away the first bottle of after-care preventive solution and give clients a copy of their pets' oral charts."