Q&A: A veterinary team approach to dental care
Creating a consistent approach to dental care takes a team ready to work together to improve pets' dental health. Team members in all job positions can engage pet owners and create a partnership for better pet care and improved dental compliance.
"February is reserved as National Pet Dental Health Month, but really, every month should be pet dental health month," says Patricia March, RVT, VTS (Dentistry), a dental technician at Animal Dental Center in Baltimore, Md. She shares these tips to work together for better oral health in pets.
"Q: Why is dental care for pets important?"Periodontal disease can have devastating effects on a patient's quality of life, so active treatment is key. Because oral infection can travel to other organ systems, it will decrease the pet's longevity and it will cause pain and chronic suffering.
"Q: What can team members say to influence pet owners to offer care?"
Relate to clients with personal stories, and use show-and-tell. For example, a 3-year-old bichon frise with dental disease visited our practice, and we recommended several extractions. The pet owner wanted to save the teeth. We told her the only way we could do this was if she brushed the teeth daily and came in every six to 12 months for professional cleanings. She agreed. We waited one week after the dog's cleaning, then I showed the pet owner how to properly brush his teeth. The dog didn't enjoy it, but he allowed it. The owner visited every three months for teeth and gum exams, and I am happy to report his teeth and gums are in great shape, with only minor gingival recession and pocketing.
"Q: What role can technicians take to change the practice's dental health program?"
Technicians are the key to educating and promoting dental care to other staff members, as well as to clients. Not all technicians like dentistry, but they need to know its significance and the treatment options and keep abreast of the new medications and home care options.
There are various continuing education centers for technicians and veterinarians as well as online continuing education programs. The dental care guidelines from the American Animal Hospital Association can help your practice create the proper protocols.
Just as food companies promote different stages of life with their foods, we can do the same with oral care. For example, we can provide a toothbrush to puppies and kittens and perform an oral exam when they visit to check for retained or missing teeth as well as malocclusions.
Adult dogs and cats also require oral exams to check for retained or missing teeth, discolored or fractured teeth and oral masses. Geriatric pets are more prone to periodontal disease, so oral exams are an essential part of your senior wellness plan.
"Q: If you're not a technician, what's your role in dental health?"
Receptionists are key because they influence clients. So offer training to explain periodontal disease and its effects and treatments, so receptionists can educate clients.
We also had a case where the groomer noticed an oral tumor on a pet and brought it to the client's attention. It was a benign tumor, but it acts aggressively by destroying jaw bone, so it had to be removed surgically. By noticing the mass and acting quickly, the surgery was a success and the pet did well. All members of the veterinary team are advocates for the animal, and we all play a role as dental ambassadors.
"Q: What's the most important thing to say to clients?"
Remind them that animals suffer in silence. As their caretakers we need to intervene and improve their quality of life. One way to do that is to keep their mouth as clean as possible to prevent disease and pain.
"Q: What should team members never say?"
Stop calling it a "dental." Call it a professional dental cleaning. Don't say extractions, say periodontal surgery. Using the proper terms will help people understand the importance of what we do. By increasing our own awareness of the need for dental health care in our patients, we can get pet owners to embrace oral health care.