The Dental Dilemma

By Vet-Advantage
December, 2016

Pets need regular dental work, but many fail to receive it.

Dogs and cats should get their teeth cleaned once a year, according to experts. Unfortunately, many veterinarians fail to deliver that message, and many clients don’t want to hear it – whether because of fear for their pet, fear of cost, or simply lack of awareness. But with appropriate education and resources – which reps can help provide – veterinarians and their clients can ensure pets get the attention they deserve.Vet Advantage image: pets need regular dental care but many fail to get it.
 Risks versus rewards

Much of the resistance from pet owners in seeking dental care for their pets rests on fear, says Debbie Boone, B.S., CCS, CVPM, and a former animal hospital administrator. Eighty percent of people have a fear of the dentist, and 50 percent of those people will delay care because of that fear. Boone believes that pet owners project this fear onto their pets, not wanting to put them under anesthesia or cause them pain. Given these reservations, veterinarians should be prepared to offer information on the risks versus rewards for obtaining proper dental care.

“When discussing dental cleanings, I always emphasize that more frequent cleanings keep patients under anesthesia [for] shorter periods of time,” she says. Additionally, these cleanings allow doctors to catch problems before they become too expensive to fix, and they keep gum bacteria from reaching internal organs.

The high cost of dental care may be an issue for clients, she says. Hospitals can make care affordable, however, by including annual dental cleanings as part of paid wellness plans. They can also arrange other payment options such as “lay away” plans, which call for clients to send money to the practice prior to the procedure.


Starting early

A crucial way to raise dental awareness, says Boone, is to make sure that clients are made aware of the importance of oral care “from the very first visit.” People need to hear a message multiple times before it has an impact. For example, if veterinarians begin emphasizing oral care when a pet is only a few weeks old, then by the time the pet reaches the age of two, “the message is embedded in the client’s mind.”

She observes that many veterinarians are inconsistent in recommending dental care to clients. Unlike human dentists, who have a simple message (i.e., that people should get teeth cleanings every six months), she notes that many veterinarians wait to recommend a cleaning until they can see tartar “caked on the molars.”

In addition to cleanings, veterinarians should take full mouth radiographs, since many of the roots of dental disease begin under the gum line, advises Boone. Veterinarians are often reluctant to take these measures because they don’t want to run up client costs. Practices can address this by pricing X-rays inexpensively. The amount of ailments needing treatment revealed by these X-rays will more than make up for the lower fee, she says. And on top of that, “the pet doesn’t have to suffer.”

Veterinary practices can do more than simply discuss dental issues with clients. They can also provide items for customers, including flyers, booklets, and models that show the stages of dental disease in pets. One thing to note is that clients are not typically medically knowledgeable, so information should be basic and understandable.

Simply put, “Sometimes gross works.” For example, Boone might inform a client that the redness on their dog’s gums is pus. By reminding them that when the dog licks a child’s face, they are spreading those germs, the client might be more motivated to take care of the issue. She also believes that video demonstrations showing the bacteria growing on pets’ gums can be effective examination room tools to raise clients’ awareness of the importance of dental care.


The distributor’s role

Distributor reps can be a great resource for veterinarians, says Boone. For example, they can provide take-home instruction sheets for dental care, or “certificates of bravery” for clients whose pets have undergone teeth cleanings or other procedures.

February is National Pet Dental Health Month, which is an opportunity for doctors to engage their clients in discussion. Reps can help by creating packages for veterinarians with materials such as Facebook posts and YouTube videos demonstrating how to brush teeth properly. (While some doctors give discounts during Dental Health Month, Boone discourages that tactic, which she believes incentivizes clients to put off dental health until they can get a good deal. Rather, she says, discounts can be offered year-round.)

Dental care is a good source of revenue for veterinarians, but it is often overlooked because many doctors don’t have the proper comfort level and training to address the topic. Reps can assist in this area by inviting experts to train office staff in dental disease, X-ray positioning, and instrument care.

Reps can also train veterinarians in how to discuss dental care with clients, with role playing and scripts to work through potential situations that might arise relating to dental care. Boone advises reps to call these classes “negotiation skills” classes rather than “sales skills” classes. “Vets are afraid of the word ‘sell,’” she says. But doctors negotiate with pet owners every day, “and if we are not good at it, our patients suffer.”


Dental care resources

Dental care is an overlooked topic for both veterinarians and pet owners. However, Debbie Boone, B.S., CCS, CVPM, offers several websites that reps can bring to their customers to help them begin the conversation with their clients.

  • The Oral Assessment, Treatment, and Prevention website ( hosted by The Nutro Company, provides in-depth information on each of these aspects of dental care, which veterinarians can use to “improve client compliance and develop sound oral healthcare practices,” as stated on its website.
  • The American Veterinary Dental College ( provides information for animal owners, veterinarians, and other health professionals related to dental health in animals.
  • The Veterinary Oral Health Council ( “exists to recognize products that meet pre-set standards of plaque and calculus (tartar) retardation in dogs and cats,” according to the group’s website. To that end, it awards the VOHC Seal to products, the regular use of which “will reduce the severity of periodontal disease in pets.”
  • Partners for Healthy Pets ( provides videos and other training resources that veterinarians can use to communicate more effectively with their clients.

Topics: Oral Care, Dental Health Month, Dental, Companion December 2016, Trends


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