7 phrases that can kill dental compliance

If you want your clients to understand the importance of dental care for their pets, avoid saying or doing these 7 things

After diagnosing a dog’s Grade 3 dental disease, the veterinarian told the pet owner, “The receptionist will give you an estimate for the procedure when you check out.” Once collecting payment for today’s checkup, the receptionist said, “Here’s the estimate that the doctor wanted you to have for your dog’s dental treatment.” Not surprising, the lackluster emphasis and explanation resulted in compliance failure.

Veterinarians, technicians and receptionists might be using wiggle words that result in no treatment or delayed care for necessary medical procedures. Here are wiggle words to avoid in client conversations:

“Here’s the estimate for your pet’s dental procedure.”

The word “estimate” centers on price, while “treatment plan” emphasizes needed medical care. Some dentists use the phrase “treatment solutions.”

Always provide treatment plans in writing. Clients need to know what care their pets will receive and the associated fees. Even when a favorite client says, “Just do everything,” provide a written treatment plan. A treatment plan serves four purposes:

  • Explains the needed medical care.
  • Gives you legal permission to treat.
  • Estimates the cost of care.
  • States payment policies.

“I recommend that you get your dog’s teeth cleaned.”

Clients might hear that they can wait because the procedure is just a recommendation and not medically necessary.

“Let’s think about cleaning your pet’s teeth.”

You’ll diminish the need for treatment and have the client thinking about not taking action.

“You should consider brushing your pet’s teeth.”

This signals that dental care at home isn’t very important since the veterinarian is only asking the client to “consider” it.

Discuss home care during checkups and dental discharge appointments. While daily brushing is the gold standard, research shows that only 6 percent of dogs and 2 percent of cats are having their teeth brushed daily.1 Ask pet owners, “What dental care do you do at home?” This phrasing indicates they should be providing home care and is stronger than “Do you brush your pet’s teeth?” which hints that it may be optional.

If the client is interested in brushing, say, “Just as dentists recommend that we brush our teeth twice a day, pets also need to have their teeth brushed once a day at home. We offer a small finger brush that slips over the tip of your finger to make it easy to brush a cat or dog’s teeth, or you can use a toothbrush designed for a pet’s mouth. We have pet toothpaste in flavors pets love, such as poultry. Would you like me to demonstrate how to brush your pet’s teeth?”

Teach clients how to brush pets’ teeth on dental models. Keep the dental model and toothbrush in a drawer or on a shelf in the exam room, so they are within arm’s reach. Make a video on your smartphone of a technician brushing a pet’s teeth. Post the video on your clinic’s Facebook page, YouTube channel and website. Mention the video when you demonstrate brushing and include the video link on the bottom of handouts.

If the client doesn’t show interest in learning tooth brushing, say, “I understand. We want you to do dental care at home that’s easy and habit forming, so let me tell you about other choices.” Ask questions to assess the client’s commitment to providing home care, such as:

  • How much time do you have to spend on dental care at home for your pet?
  • When is the most convenient time to perform dental care at home in your schedule?
  • Who is the primary caregiver for the pet?
  • Would you like to stretch out the time between professional dental treatments with easy home-care options?

Based on the client’s answers, discuss a dental diet, drinking water additive, rinse, gels, chews or a combination of several products. Diet and chews are easy choices, because every pet needs to eat, and pet owners love to give treats.

“Let’s watch it for now.”

What are you going to watch the pet’s dental disease do, graduate from Grade 1 to Grade 3, increasing the health consequences and cost of care?

“I see a little tartar on your cat’s teeth.”

Also called calculus, tartar is a crusty deposit that traps stains on teeth and causes discoloration. Tartar builds up above and below the gum line. Continual tartar accumulation causes inflammation and infection of the gums—gingivitis—and eventually recession of the gum tissue and bone, which loosens the teeth. Tartar creates a strong bond that can only be professionally removed.

“Little” communicates that professional treatment isn’t needed. For example, you would never say, “Your dog’s leg is a little broken.”

“Let’s wait until February.”

During a consultation at a veterinary hospital in November, I shadowed an exam. The veterinarian diagnosed Grade 2 dental disease in a 4-year-old dog and explained the treatment. Then she destroyed compliance by saying, “But let’s wait and schedule it for February because you can save $50.” Although Pet Dental Health Month is in February, you diagnose dental disease daily and should never have pet owners delay care.

Confidently explain treatment and emphasize the uppercase words to stress urgency and share benefit statements. Say, “<Pet name> has Grade 2 dental disease. He NEEDS a dental treatment NOW to slow the progression of his dental disease and to treat the ORAL INFECTION. As his dental disease gets worse, SERIOUS HEALTH PROBLEMS could happen. It’s common for pets to get painful abscesses or a toothache that causes them to eat less or not at all. Bacteria in the mouth passes through the bloodstream and can PERMANENTLY DAMAGE the kidneys, heart, liver and lungs. A dental treatment will remove built up tartar and plaque. I will have my technician explain our professional dental treatment and talk with you about easy home-care products.”

For more training on dental compliance, order my one-hour webinar on “How to Get to Yes for Dentistry,” which includes unlimited playback, a handout, one hour of continuing education credit and a CE certificate, go here.

Watch my short video on “Choose Your Words Carefully” below:


  1. “Dog and Cat Owners Challenged to Brush up on Dental Health.” Tesco Bank Pet Insurance study. Sept. 10, 2015. Accessed on Feb. 16, 2016, at http://bit.ly/1ZkNEQz.

Originally published in the May 2016 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

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