Tonight I was on Facebook and saw a post from such an excited student that her clinic offered a 10% discount on dental cleanings this month. This post got my attention, and I wanted to address the discounting dental or any procedures. Dental Health Month is an excellent opportunity to promote our pets’ overall well-being by having an entire month dedicated to the single most preventable disease we see in dogs and cats. Pet Dental Health month began in the 1990s to educate Pet Parents on the importance of good oral health and promote dental service within our industry. February was chosen to coincide with Dental Health Month for people. Somehow over the years, February has transformed into Dental Discount Month in veterinary practices across the country.
When I first began working in general practice in 2005, our clinic also participated in Dental Discount Month by offering a 10% discount on dental cleanings. The discount meant too many procedures every day for all of February to mid-March. Two things alerted me to the problem with this situation. Three if you count the back and shoulder pain I endured!
In late September, the first issue was after performing a conscious oral exam on an older dog with Grade 8 out of 4 periodontal disease! You could smell this pet’s malodor from the parking lot! I had explained at length the need for a professional dental cleaning and advised the owner that there would be multiple teeth that would need extraction. A treatment plan was created and every detail was explained to the owner. I walked the owner to the front desk to get the procedure scheduled as soon as possible. There was an opening the very next week, so I told the receptionist to schedule the procedure. As soon as I walked away, I heard the receptionist say to the owner….,” if you wait until February, it will be 10% off for that procedure.” I was astounded! I had a long talk with that receptionist after the owner left the practice explaining the dog had a severe infection and it should never wait several months for treatment.
The next time I knew this was a problem that occurred during a visit to my family doctor. I had gone in for a regular check-up, and she mentioned that the next month was February, and she needed to get her dog’s teeth cleaned. While I was excited to learn that she was diligent in getting these procedures done annually, it struck me that we can clean a dog’s teeth all year round, not just in February.
To overcome the first problem in practice, we began offering a 10% discount if the owner scheduled the procedure within 30 days of the recommendation. Soon, everyone was getting a 10% discount no matter when they scheduled the treatment. Change is hard, but the decision was made to no longer offer the discount and guess what…. the sky didn’t fall in, we didn’t lack clients, and very few even asked about the discount. I concluded that we had hurt not only dentistry but our entire industry by offering discounts. Have you ever heard of a human dentist offering a 10% discount in February?
When a procedure is discounted, we are subliminally telling the owner that we feel the cost is too high. We don’t value the procedure’s importance or that it is not medically necessary. Do we discount cystotomies, TTA’s, or fracture repairs? Regular, thorough professional dental cleanings under anesthesia, can add 2-3 years to our patient’s life!
I recently was told that the reason a clinic discounted dentistry was to fill up the schedule in a usually slow time. I challenged them to discontinue the discounts and improve the client’s education of the value of good oral health to the pets. Pet parents need to hear this message repeatedly during the visit to ensure that they understand the value, meaning that everyone from the receptionist to the veterinarian needs to believe and discuss the need for oral care all year round.
How can we promote Dental Health Month? Be creative….have a daily dental-related quiz on your clinic Facebook page, create a dental bulletin board, have a drawing for a dental gift basket, discount oral care products, give a talk at the local elementary school, host an open house and discuss dental care or write an article for the local newspaper.