By Dr. Emily Dae Andersen, DVM, CVA, CVFT
Veterinary dental care has grown immensely along with the knowledge that dental health plays a critical role in our pets’ systemic health, mirroring that of human medicine. Dogs and cats are also simply living longer lives, such that, the majority of patients we see suffer from periodontal issues. Successful education has led to an increase in pet parent compliance when it comes to dental care for their beloved animals.
Why is it, then, that so many of us in the veterinary profession still find ourselves embattled with encouraging adequate oral hygiene? Here are some suggestions to help increase your own dentistry successes and improve the long-term health of our small animal patients.
1. Teach prevention
Good prevention is paramount to long term dental health, yet often seems to be at the bottom of a never-ending list of talking points to pet parents. Make it a goal in upcoming appointments to try to incorporate some quick and easy education initiatives.
- In person, or via video if you are still practicing curbside, turn off the lights, break out the blue light, and illuminate dental concerns to owners. Quick, simple, and effective, kids will also benefit greatly from this teaching moment.
- Show owners how to brush their pet’s teeth. This can be a great activity to add in at a final puppy exam. Again, don’t forget to invite the kids to help out!
- Remember that every animal needs to eat. Is a prescription dental food appropriate? Not only can these be greatly helpful, but they help to obtain owner buy in to prioritize their animal’s dental health.
- Similarly, are there specific chews, treats or dental supplements you can recommend? With so many options out there, many owners like specific recommendations. Recommending researched products can help gain trust from owners as you convey that you want them to only spend money on legitimate products. Simple tricks like ensuring you can indent a fingernail into a chew to ensure it isn’t too hard to avoid dental fractures are also often well-received.
- Train technicians to go over prevention with owners or create educational content. The options are limitless and can immensely help with client education and compliance as well as employee satisfaction.
2. Set clear expectations
No amount of prevention can eliminate the need for anesthetized dental procedures. Set owners up to win and ensure that when discussing dental wellness appointments that this important point is mentioned. We presumably brush our teeth regularly and still need routine cleanings! That is, needing an anesthetized dental procedure is not a failure. It isn’t something you as the veterinarian or the owner has “done wrong”. Explain that while we can help slow the onset of periodontal issues, we cannot completely remove the need for anesthetized dental procedures.
Also, when talking to young animal owners, remember predisposition of certain breeds to periodontal issues, and take the extra time to prepare owners at their young animal’s examinations.
3. Explain dental procedures
To many owners, anesthetized dental procedures are some conglomeration of terrifying and unnecessarily expensive. Try to remember that these concerns are generally out of both compassion and a lack of understanding – utilize this compassion to help educate!
- Explain that utilizing anesthesia also helps minimize stress and maximize patient safety. Be proud of the excellent protocols undoubtedly have in place to minimize anesthetic risk. Share with owners the individualized care you provide for anesthesia protocols and constant anesthesia monitoring. Certainly, remain humble that anesthesia is not without risk but that with all of our training and knowledge, the benefit for this patient outweighs this. Convey that pain management and procedural technique has advanced greatly so that dogs and cats generally tolerate dental extractions extremely well. This shows you have given specific thought to an owner’s beloved pet and their needs.
- Utilize an analogy such as an “iceberg” to describe tooth roots and the need for radiographs. Simply showing the humility that we cannot tell the extent of a pet’s periodontal issues without radiographs helps owner understand why a financial estimate might have such a large range. While a technician or manager may go through this as well, hearing it from a doctor first can take but a quick moment and be greatly impactful. This is an easy segue into how inherently complex and time consuming these procedures are, which provides us further validation.
Explain to your clients that dental issues in their pets, just like people, are painful. Both pet parents and veterinary teams alike do not want animals in discomfort or suffering. Close a conversation about dentistry with a favorite patient success story: An older animal that acted like a puppy or kitten again after dentistry. If we can humbly and honestly explain and align our goals with owners, dental procedure outcomes are sure to improve.
Dr. Emily Dae Andersen, DVM, CVA, CVFT currently runs a small animal house call practice and works as a high quality/high volume spay/neuter veterinarian. Dr. Andersen is passionate about access to veterinary care, both stateside and abroad. She is also certified in veterinary acupuncture and food therapy and has completed advanced training in Chinese herbal medicine. Dr. Andersen splits her time between Connecticut and Vermont where she lives with a menagerie of beloved animals.