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7 veterinary dentistry tips for general practitioners

VettedVetted January 2020
Volume 115
Issue 1

Keep pet owners informed through the entire dental examination and extraction process, soothe fears about anesthesia, make jargon-free correlations and address cost concerns with advice from Kendall Taney, DVM, DAVDC, FAVD.

It's likely that for every dental procedure performed in your veterinary clinic, there are scores of canine and feline patients still in desperate need of dental care. How do you emphasize the urgent needs of these pets in ways their caretakers understand?

GPs in veterinary practice, you're in luck! Kendall Taney, DVM, DAVDC, FAVD, of the Center for Veterinary Dentistry & Oral Surgery in Gaithersburg, Maryland, is here for you. At this week's Fetch dvm360 conference in San Diego, she offered brilliant, action-oriented tips you can start implementing right away.

Dr. Taney's first tip: Involve the owner in each step. Start with an awake oral examination during the initial visit. “Explain your initial findings with periodontal disease charts and tooth models,” she said. “Say to clients, ‘We only see 40% of the tooth with our eyes.'”

Next, provide a treatment plan with a range of costs. Make extremely clear that the plan can (and likely will) change. “I used to get in trouble when I'd say, ‘Oh, this doesn't look too bad!' And then I'd take X-rays,” Dr. Taney said. “Don't make my mistake.”

Pet owners just don't understand

You've probably heard some variation of, “You removed two of Muffy's teeth? How will she ever eat again?” And inside your head you're thinking, “Well, Karen, she has 42 teeth. She will manage just fine.” You'd never say that out loud, but what you do say matters greatly-because extractions can be shocking for pet owners!

“I've had clients burst into tears just seeing the level of disease present in their dog's mouth,” says Dr. Taney. A big help to facilitate better communication with clients? Before-and-after photographs. Don't dismiss these valuable tools.

Be firm in your explanation of anesthetic protocol, knowing that every client will feel better knowing what to expect for their pet's procedure. “Everyone has a story of how their neighbor's cousin's dog died under anesthesia-it's always because of a dental procedure, too,” says Dr. Taney. All together now: I will not let clients' fears about anesthesia preclude this pet from getting dental care. Believe in your ability to help the client overcome these fears.

Dr. Taney's No. 1 most important tip is to double-check-and then triple-check-that you have a phone number where the client can absolutely, unequivocally, always be reached. Ask, ask again and ask once more just in case. Not only is unauthorized tooth extraction a top reason for malpractice complaints in veterinary practice, but this insistence will reinforce your dedication to the quality of care the anesthetized pet will receive.

Another tip to help ease anesthesia fears revolves around instructions at discharge. Make sure pet owners understand that a pet's behavior after anesthetization can be jarring. Yes, moaning, crying and whining might be scary to witness, but these are normal post-anesthesia side effects. The pet can also experience bleeding and pain, and clients will appreciate a heads-up to keep the pet away from nice carpet and furniture. Advise clients to watch their pet carefully after the dental procedure. And make sure clients know what constitutes an emergency and who to call with questions.

Fetch dvm360 crowd-sourced tips

Bottom line, best advice to convince an owner to do a dental procedure? Here are a few ideas from conference attendees ….

• Dogs have bad breath, sure. And you can certainly give the example of a person not brushing their own teeth to help illustrate the point. But why not take it one step further? Ask the client to think of how she would look if she only brushed her hair once a year. Pretty crazy, right? Now, have her apply that kind of thinking to her dog's mouth. If she's only brushing those teeth once a year, imagine what's going on in there!

• After an initial exam, offer the client a 10% discount on the full dental procedure that must be used within 30 days. Create urgency and help mitigate worries about cost.

Keep your clients happy by calling that evening and the next day to check on the pet, Dr. Taney advises. Be available for their questions so you can intervene early if complications arise. This thoroughness helps show pet owners the value of your service, even with a higher bill, Dr. Taney said.

Dr. Taney's last tip: Always take post-extraction radiographs. Always. These images document that the entire tooth has been removed. They prove to the owner that you did what you said you were going to do. “Which, of course you did,” said Dr. Taney. “But don't let your pet owners unintentionally reinforce this idea that vets ‘swindle' in any way.” The radiographs are proof of your beautiful work. Don't skip them, for the health of the patient, for your client's satisfaction and your peace of mind. 

Kendall Taney, DVM, DAVDC, FAVD, is a partner at the Center for Veterinary Dentistry and Oral Surgery in Gaithersburg, Maryland. She earned her DVM from Virginia Tech and completed general and surgical internships before completing a dentistry residency. Her special interests include maxillofacial reconstruction and oral oncologic surgery.

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