Dentistry dominates the discussion at 2013 NAVC

Veterinary dentistry was a common theme shared between several lectures at the North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC). More specifically, speakers pointed out that dentistry is absent from far too many practices in the United States.

NEWStat listened in on a few of the sessions to learn what the experts had to say about the state of veterinary dentistry.

Veterinarians missing out on revenue

During Fritz Wood’s lecture on the top three untapped sources of revenue for veterinarians, dentistry came in at No. 2 on his list. According to the well-known CPA and CFP, dentistry typically accounts for approximately 2 to 3 percent of the average veterinarian’s revenue – an amount he says should be much higher. 

He used Dr. Kate Knutson, AAHA president-elect, as an example of someone who is successfully running a dentistry-focused practice where he estimated that up to 50 percent of her revenue is gained from dentistry – a figure he said is 18 times the industry average. According to Wood, despite Knutson's success, she believes she has barely scratched the surface of the revenue-generating potential of dentistry.

Dr. Cindy Charlier, who spoke about promoting dentistry to improve patient care and increase practice revenue, told her audience that dentistry should account for at least 10-15 percent of what veterinarians do in their practice.

To illustrate how too many pets have their dental needs untreated, Charlier gave an example of a hospital that had 3,411 patients older than 3, and estimated that 70 percent of those patients had periodontal disease (the estimation comes from an AVDS study showing that 70 percent of cats and 80 percent of dogs older than 3 have periodontal disease). Only 213 of that hospital's pets had dental work performed, which means that about 3,000 animals left that hospital untreated.

Not only was the practice leaving substantial money on the table, but the patients were not receiving the care they needed, Charlier said.

Tips for increasing your practice's dental workload

According to Charlier, the top reasons why veterinarians aren’t fulfilling their dental potential are that they didn’t learn much about dentistry in school, they don’t recognize oral disease, and they don’t properly educate clients about the importance of dentistry and the consequences of non-compliance.

One key tip she recommended is to educate clients by showing them instead of just telling them. Give clients a visual lesson in their pet's oral health by taking them in the exam room and showing them the plaque or other dental issues. She also recommended that veterinarians show owners a poster demonstrating the progressively worse stages of periodontal disease, or send them home with before-and-after photos of their animal’s teeth after they have been cleaned.

Another obstacle for many veterinarians, Charlier said, is that they are hesitant to charge a proper amount for oral surgery and other services. They often fear that the client won’t want to pay much for dental care, so they undervalue the services and don’t make the client feel like dentistry is an important part of the pet’s overall health care.

Elevating the value of dental procedures in the eyes of clients needs to start with veterinarians, she said.

“Good medicine is good business, and you never have to apologize for that. Charge for your services,” Charlier said.