When it comes to dentistry, the word drill makes most people cringe. But it should get you excited. Now, don’t go adopting “drill, baby, drill” as your mantra. Instead, work toward the goal of your practice’s dental drill collecting dust.
Why? Because that means your patients are receiving the preventive dental care they need. For this to happen, you and your team members must be cheerleaders for dental cleanings for every pet. And with February being Pet Dental Health Month, now is the time to ramp up your efforts. Doing so will definitely increase practice profits, but that’s not the biggest reason to start shouting, “Rah!”
“It’s really about looking at the pet and being an advocate for the pet,” says Dr. Jeff Rothstein, MBA, president of The Progressive Pet Animal Hospitals and Management Group in Michigan. Here’s how to get your game face on.
1. Jazz up your team
Everyone at the practice—from the receptionist to the technician to the kennel personnel—must be convinced about the need for dental care, and they must be enthusiastic, says Dr. Scott Linick, FAVD, owner of Plainfield Animal Hospital in South Plainfield, N.J. So how do you create a team of dental enthusiasts? “Energizing the team is a challenge,” Dr. Linick says. “I get my team jazzed up and, like everything else, it slips by the wayside.” That’s why he recommends regular CE sessions to keep everyone focused on improving pets’ oral health.
Why is this so important? “Say I go into an exam room and tell clients their pet really needs dental care,” Dr. Linick says. “And when they go out to schedule an appointment, if the receptionist is less than enthusiastic, you’re sending clients a mixed message.”
Christine Chevalier, LVT, with Plainfield Animal Hospital, says Dr. Linick creates excitement by discussing dental care every day. When he notices an unusual case, he spreads the word. Team members are invited to see the case and its treatment, and everyone learns.
Progress reports are another way to connect with clients and build team enthusiasm, Chevalier says. “After the procedure, the pet owner calls us back, or our receptionist calls the client for an update on the pet,” she says. “If the client says the pet’s doing well, we all feel better. That’s the biggest team builder there is, just to share that what we did made a difference.”
2. Brainstorm ideas together
Dr. Rothstein suggests planning an hour-long team meeting to make a list of 10 things you can do to increase the number of dental procedures your practice performs. When his practices brainstormed, they came up with ideas such as using before-and-after photos and diagrams of dental grades in the exam room and creating displays in the waiting area. “Each clinic needs to figure out what works for them,” Dr. Rothstein says. “There isn’t a right or wrong. But team members are more likely to buy in if they come up with the ideas.”
3. Steal ruthlessly
Many practices love to share their successes and challenges. For example, Chevalier and Dr. Linick meet with team members from other practices across three states and share cases once a month. “We learn from each other. It makes us more effective, and it keeps us fresh and cutting edge,” Chevalier says.
4. Remember your old friends
Marketing your enthusiasm for dental procedures to new clients is one option. But remember that it’s easier to promote your services to existing clients than to attract new ones. “Your clients are already familiar with you. They trust you,” Dr. Linick says. “If you devote two to five minutes of every 15- to 20-minute office visit to dentistry, that puts the seed in the client’s head. It’s amazing how many will schedule a dental procedure right then and there.”
If clients hesitate on dental care, Mary Viviano, LVT, with Roadside Veterinary Clinic in Highland, Mich., recommends using a visual. “One of our veterinarians opens the pet’s mouth and runs a finger across the gum line,” she says. “Pus will often ooze out, showing infection. This seems rather grotesque, but he gets his point across.”
5. Help clients pay
Clients have less money in this economy. As a result, Dr. Rothstein says he sees an increased focus on life’s simpler pleasures. And one of the things people value most is their relationship with their pets.
For example, last year before Christmas, one of Dr. Rothstein’s regular clients brought one cat in for a dental cleaning and another cat in for an exam. When Dr. Rothstein looked at the second cat, he recognized it needed a cleaning more than the one already scheduled for dental care. So he also recommended a cleaning for the second feline. Although the client worried she’d have to buy fewer presents for her 7-year-old daughter, she still opted for the care, saying her daughter loved the cats. “It was a little heart wrenching, but it’s interesting to see how our clients have been educated about the importance of dental care,” Dr. Rothstein says.
The best approach to helping clients is to offer plenty of ways to pay. At Dr. Linick’s practice, he and the team recommend pet insurance for new pets and third-party payment plans for clients who can’t pay for care their pet needs immediately.
Dr. Rothstein has also developed dental wellness plans, which have boosted client compliance with dental recommendations. These types of packages might include a dental cleaning, blood work, anesthesia, and dental radiographs. The doctors can add options, such as a discount for extractions or more radiographs. Viviano says her practice has seen an increase in dental appointments since they began offering the wellness packages.
And if you’re thinking your patients won’t pay for dental services, think again. “Two years ago I bought another practice, and we merged the two,” Dr. Linick says. “The former owner told me, ‘My clients won’t pay for that.’ But it’s amazing how many of his clients are happy they’re offered this service and will pay for it.” Bottom line: You don’t know until you ask.
Now’s a perfect time to focus on a dental program. “In this economy, it’s even more important to be more centered on dentistry,” Dr. Linick says. “You’re marketing to existing clients who trust you and love you. And you’re offering a service that benefits their pets and your practice.” That’s something worth cheering about.
Portia A. Stewart is a freelance writer and former Firstline editor in Lenexa, Kan.