AVAILABLE FOR SPEAKING IN 2024 –  Keynotes, Seminars, Workshops, Webinars, & Retreats - Let’s Talk

How to Better Educate Clients Who Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

Last month I had the good fortunate to have a speaking engagement in the home town of my brother and sister-in-law.  How nice to be able to stay with family instead of in a hotel.  They have 2 dogs – Zoey, a Yorkie and Malone, a Schnauzer.  It’s not unusual for my sister-in-law, Tami, to ask me pet healthcare questions.  On this visit, we talked about Zoey’s dental care.  Tami has always been concerned about Zoey’s oral care in part because she is a Practice Manager for a dentist.  I volunteered to examine Zoey’s mouth and found advanced periodontal disease.   Tami was surprised.  She had no idea the disease was so progressive or that Zoey likely had pain associated with her bad teeth.

It struck me that even with her significant knowledge about human dentistry, Tami didn’t know to routinely examine Zoey’s mouth and what to look for.  She didn’t know what she didn’t know.  How well educated are your clients about the need for regular dental cleanings?  Statistics show that pet owners need more in-depth education about dental care and a stronger call to action to schedule dental cleanings.

The latest data from AAHA’s Financial & Productivity PulsePoints reports the average income for dentistry in 2013 was 4% of total revenues and this number didn’t change substantially from data for 2011.  I routinely see dentistry income at 2-4% of total revenues for my clients.  Given the large number of pets with dental disease, these statistics reveal a majority of pets aren’t getting the care they need.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Our team members always make dentistry recommendations but pet owners don’t say yes.”  The problem isn’t that teams don’t make recommendations, but rather that clients don’t always hear a strong enough call to action.  Let’s take a look at what your team could do differently to better educate clients about the value of dentistry for their pet.

Improving Client Education About Periodontal Disease And The Value Of Dental Care

In my observations, team members routinely give only brief explanations about dental disease quickly followed by a recommendation for a dental cleaning.  It sounds like this:

“Chloe has gingivitis and some periodontal disease.  Left untreated this can lead to loss of teeth and damage to other organs.  We recommend a dental cleaning and we can get you an estimate if you need it.”  Notice there are limited details about the disease and instead a greater focus on the recommendation and cost of care.  Unless your clients are saying “Yes, let’s do it. I can’t wait to spend $XXX on dental care” then I suggest the following step by step client education process.

  1. Give clients details about dental disease. Here’s an example:

“I’ve examined Chloe’s oral cavity and I want to review some relevant findings.  She has gingivitis along all her gum lines and advanced periodontal disease as well particularly on the left side of her mouth.  Let me show you what I’m seeing. [at this point-show the client areas of concern and explain dental grading].  It is also helpful to use visual aids to augment verbal client education.  This may include brochures or Veterinary apps with photos of periodontal disease.

No, the next step is not a recommendation!

  1. Involve pet owners in a discussion of their pet’s health. Don’t rush to tell clients what they need to do. Instead pause and give them time to absorb the education you’ve offered. This will likely result in the client asking questions to gain more information.  If the client doesn’t ask questions, here are questions to engage clients and help you understand how much they know about dental care:

“Have you noticed any change in Chloe’s eating habits or desire to play tug of war with her toys?”

“What questions do you have about Chloe’s dental disease?”

These questions lead to further dialogue about pain and the progression of periodontal disease.  They also serve to uncover any owner misconceptions such as thinking that bad breath is normal and dental cleanings aren’t really important to overall health and comfort.

  1. Make a clear recommendation. Avoid ambiguous language and give the client a strong call to action.  Here’s an example that combines need recognition and establishes the value of the service:

“The best way to treat Chloe is to schedule her for a complete oral cavity evaluation and teeth cleaning.  Let me explain the entire procedure. [at this point, go into further details about radiographs, anesthesia, dental cleaning, pre-anesthesia labwork]

No, you’re still not done!

  1. Close with an open-ended question. Unless the client immediately requests an appointment, ask an open-ended question to uncover any concerns.  Here are examples:

“What questions do you have about the treatment plan for Chloe?”

“What concerns do you have about Chloe’s treatment plan?”

“Tell me your thoughts about scheduling Chloe’s dentistry procedure.”

  1. Schedule the appointment NOW. Try to schedule the dentistry procedure while the client is still in the exam room.  This improves compliance because it conveys to the client a sense of urgency.  It also saves time at the front desk.  If the client does check out at the front desk, alert the reception team to make an appointment for Chloe or put in a call back if the client doesn’t schedule.

Clients need more information and a stronger call to action to agree to expensive dentistry recommendations.  People will do something different if you do something different.

Case in point: For years, the dental hygienist and dentist at several dental offices always recommended flossing to me but I never followed the recommendation till this year.  The reason I finally committed to flossing is because my current dental office focused on the long-term value.  They used visual aids to explain dental homecare and explained that flossing really could make a difference in avoiding progression of disease and tooth loss.

Take steps now to improve client education about dentistry.  If your team follows the above protocol for client education you can increase compliance for dentistry at your practice.

After my conversation with Tami, she immediately got on the phone to schedule an appointment for Zoey!

Share this post
About the Author: Amanda Donnelly
Dr. Amanda Donnelly is a sought-after speaker, author, business consultant, and second-generation veterinarian who combines her practice experience and business expertise to help veterinarians communicate better with their teams and clients. Well known as a dynamic speaker, Dr. Donnelly was the 2023 Practice Management Educator of the Year for WVC and has twice been named Practice Management Speaker of the Year for the VMX Conference. Dr. Donnelly is the author of the book Leading and Managing Veterinary Teams: The Definitive Guide to Veterinary Practice Management and a contributing author for Blackwell’s Five Minute Veterinary Practice Management Consult and Pet-Specific Care for Veterinary Teams. She also writes the Talk the Talk communication column for Today’s Veterinary Business journal.