Changing your practice's approach to National Pet Dental Health Month
February is an excellent time to concentrate on raising dental awareness in our practices in conjunction with National Pet Dental Health Month. Traditionally, practices across the country participate in the effort to educate clients about the importance of routine dental care for our pets. Education efforts generally result in a dramatic increase in the number of dental procedures performed during the month of February.
But we must ask ourselves, with this increase in volume, is the quality of care maintained? More important, is the standard of care being met for high-quality dentistry?
Unfortunately, the answers to these questions vary considerably from practice to practice. Two extremes exist: the cleaning and extraction of blatantly loose teeth in some practices to a full oral evaluation focusing on full-mouth dental radiography in others. Only practices engaged in providing the latter have aspired to provide the established standard of care. For those that fall short of this standard, this article should serve as a wake-up call to the importance of adapting to this change in today's practice environment.
Where does your practice fall within this range? Depending on your answer, steps can be taken to maximize your approach to National Pet Dental Health Month this year. In either extreme, staff dental awareness peaks in conjunction with this yearly campaign, providing motivation for clients to comply with recommendations for dental procedures to be performed during the month of February. The number of planned dental procedures increases several-fold compared with the other months of the year. Let's look at both extremes in light of this scenario and determine a game plan for 2012.
Practices with room to grow
In practices operating below the standard of care, technicians perform most of the dental cleaning procedures. Patients' teeth are cleaned, and blatantly loose teeth are extracted. Each patient is then recovered to clear the way for the next procedure, and critical disease is commonly overlooked without dental radiography. I have shown numerous examples of this in recent articles and over the years in this column.
What we need to realize is that although more patients' teeth are being cleaned, these patients are not being properly diagnosed and treated. So rather than providing a medical benefit to the majority of patients, cleaning provides primarily a cosmetic benefit. If we neglect what is below the gum line, we miss the entire purpose of National Pet Dental Health Month.
If this sounds like your practice, it is time to make dramatic changes. Take this time to follow the plan in Table 1 to bring your dentistry service to the level that it deserves to be at. Your patients will benefit from detection of hidden disease, and your practice will benefit for years to come, not only financially but also from the peace of mind consistent with providing the best dental care available.
9 Action Steps to Take Now to Create a New Standard of Care in Veterinary Dentistry
- 1. Use National Pet Dental Health Month as a time to evacuate your current level of dental care, and commit to improving throughout 2012.
- 2. Designate one veterinarian in the practice with an interest in dentistry to head hte dentistry service.
- 3. Designate at least one technician in the practice with an interest in dentistry to assist the veterinarian.
- 4. Arrange for prper hands-on wet lab and lecture trainin of those designees by a board-certified veterinary dentist. Several teaching facilities are available throughout the country in addition to the Veterinary Dental Forum held each November.
- 5. Research equipment purchases during the training process. Representatives of digital dental radiography software, radiography generators and high-speed delivery systems will come to your practice and demonstrate equipment on request.
- 6. Direct purchase or finance a digital dental radiography system, a high-speed delivery system for tooth sectioning and bone removal and proper instrumentation for extractions and periodontal therapy. The veterinary dentist who provides the training is a valuable asset in assisting in this process.
- 7. Schedule a continuing education orientation session for the entire staff. Examining the patient benefits of dental radiography and establishing practice protocols for the dentistry service are important topics. This ideally is provided by a veterinary dentist. A veterinary dental technician specialist and the veterinarian in charge of the dentistry service within the practice are also alternatives.
- 8. Practice! Radiographic positioning takes time and practice to obtain profeciency. Obrain dog and cat cadaver speciments to allow the dental staff to practice radiographic positioning before attempting positioning with live patients. Goals should include full-mouth series times of 15 minutes for large dogs and size to eight minutes for small dogs and cats. Veterinarians can also use cadaver speciments to become more proficient in procedures learned during their training.
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Practices meeting the standard of care
Dramatically increasing procedure numbers in February also poses concerns for practices that have taken the advice laid forth in Table 1 and invested time and capital to build a high-quality dentistry service.
Practices that currently meet the standard of care provide the patient with the benefits of complete periodontal probing and dental radiography. In addition, a trained veterinarian and technical team are on hand to resolve the problems that these diagnostic tests reveal. Procedures commonly require one to two hours to complete and involve basic to intermediate periodontal therapy and surgical extractions using periodontal flaps.
However, the significant patient procedure numbers that result from a well-executed National Pet Dental Health Month campaign may put undue time pressure on the dentistry staff to adequately complete all scheduled procedures. This may play out in compromised quality, added emotional and physical stress on the entire staff or all of the above.
For these practices, I have a suggestion—use February to educate clients about dental care, but eliminate February scheduling problems. February is arbitrary! Assume each dental cleaning will turn into two hours of cleaning and treatment of underlying disease (as they often do). Use the campaign as an opportunity to schedule appointments, but spread them out over the next several months or more instead of just February. This will allow proper attention to each case and is guaranteed to minimize staff stress.
Over the years, the National Pet Dental Health Month campaign has provided materials for staff motivation, driving compliance and providing benefits to countless patients. Depending on the level of veterinary dentistry services that your practice provides, take this as an opportunity to optimize your situation to the fullest.