What is it about a pet's mouth that's most unappetizing? The layers of crunchy, multicolored tartar? The receding, inflamed gums? The smell—putrid fish in cats, and in dogs ... ugh, let's not talk about it. Instead, let's discuss what you can do to get clients on board with your recommendations for dental procedures and oral health products. When you clean up the mouth, the bacteria-filled gateway to a pet's body, you'll see a more pleasant color: green.
Start by taking an attitude cue from Lori Bollinger, RVT, a technician at Camelot Court Animal Clinic in Leawood, Kan., who's certified in dental work. "I love working in the mouth," she says. "It's amazing how long a dog will live if you keep its teeth clean." Bollinger's success with oral health compliance has steadily increased over the years. Here are her not-so-tricky tricks of the trade.
Look, and also touch
Show clients the mouth. "We call it 'show and tell to sell,'" Bollinger says of the time she and the doctor spend pulling back a pet's lips and revealing where that smell is coming from. Most clients never look inside their dogs' mouths—even fewer cat owners take that perilous peek.
Explain dental charges. Clients sometimes balk at the total bill, but Bollinger goes over each item on the estimate before the procedure. She tells clients that a dental cleaning at Camelot Court includes a full CBC and serum chemistry profile, anesthesia with complete monitoring, pain management, an IV catheter, and a stretch of technician time spent scraping plaque and chipping away at tartar. Blood work is important because certain values let the doctor know that bacteria are flourishing and a timely dental procedure is crucial. Anesthesia is required for the animal's comfort. An antibiotic injection before the procedure protects against infection.
Tell clients how to prevent problems. Bollinger recommends a sealant that she applies and clients maintain at home. She suggests dental-friendly treats, rinses, and diets. She gives free toothpaste and toothbrushes to any client who asks.
Discover your favorite products. Bollinger attended dental conferences, talked to doctors, and tried out products before she settled on her favorites. Sometimes pets and clients didn't like them or she didn't see results—so she stopped using them. If clients aren't sure their pets will like a dental food, Bollinger recommends they try a little bag of the dental diet as a treat before they commit to a large bag.
Compliance takes time, Bollinger says. Sometimes you'll clean a pet's teeth and explain about at-home care, and the client will nod yes, yes, yes. Then a year later, the patient will return with a mouthful of disease. Bollinger says sometimes her message doesn't sink in until the second or third cleaning—but it does sink in eventually. So don't worry if you hear "no thanks." Like the plaque on pets' teeth, your words will stick eventually.
Brendan Howard is senior editor of Veterinary Economics, Firstline's sister magazine about the business of client and patient care.