Sarah Rumple is an award-winning veterinary writer living in Denver, Colorado, and the owner of Rumpus Writing and Editing. She has been a veterinary writer and editor since 2011, when she was hired as a copywriter for the American Animal Hospital Association. Learn more at rumpuswriting.com
Paul Camilo didn’t plan on working in the veterinary industry for long when he became a kennel assistant at Hometown Animal Hospital and All Pets Dental. But within two weeks of starting his Weston, Florida, job, he saw a Rottweiler get a set of braces, and that made him do a double take.
Working under Jan Bellows, DVM, DAVDC, ABVP, prompted Camilo to take an interest in veterinary medicine, especially dentistry, and he decided to change career paths and work his way up in Dr. Bellows’ practice. After earning his certificate in veterinary practice management and becoming the practice administrator, Camilo began to focus on the business side of dentistry.
Today, he is president of Your Pet’s Vets, a practice with multiple locations in Florida and Texas. He speaks and consults regularly, helping veterinary hospitals grow their dental revenue.
Over in Aurora, Colorado, Monique Weldon, DVM, believes so strongly in veterinary dentistry that nearly eight years after opening Loving Family Animal Hospital, she decided to launch a second clinic nearby in 2018, one focused on affordable pet dental care.
Dental revenue at most general practices is not where it should be, Camilo and Dr. Weldon said.
“AAHA had it right around 4.7% and the Well-Managed Practice Study had it around 3.3%,” Camilo said. “But practices should aim for at least 10% and then grow from there. If 25% of a practice’s revenue comes from dental services, that would be ideal. And it’s possible.”
Ninety percent of animals need dental care, Dr. Weldon said.
“Even if you’re at 25% to 30%, you’re still undershooting,” she said. “Right now, most practices are lucky to be anywhere between 6% and 10%, and that’s just so low.”
Here’s how Dr. Weldon and Camilo say you can grow your dental revenue:
1. Recommend Annual Dental X-Rays
Dr. Weldon and Camilo recommend that every patient receive dental X-rays and a cleaning once a year.
“Most pets … have dental issues. Of those issues, 60% are underneath the gumline,” Camilo said. “And if you get really good at finding those issues using dental X-rays and educating clients about why the issues need to be treated, that’s where the bulk of the revenue comes in.”
For pets that need their teeth cleaned more than once a year, Camilo recommends doing the second cleaning without X-rays.
2. Use Educational Visuals
Helping clients to see what’s going on inside their pets’ mouths will improve their understanding of the importance of dental health and the likelihood that they’ll comply with your recommendations.
At Camilo’s practice, photos of a pet’s teeth are taken during the exam, printed and given to the client. Then, a handout that talks about how dental disease affects the liver, kidneys and heart is shared. Reports summarizing the results of the cleaning are emailed before any problems, treatment options and surgery estimates are discussed.
Similarly, Dr. Weldon’s team reviews a report card with each client that includes where the pet is on the dental scale, what is causing pain, what’s likely to happen if the problem progresses and what’s involved with treatment.
“We have posters of X-rays and visuals of different degrees of dental disease,” Dr. Weldon said. “We use a lot of visuals because it’s easier for clients to see what we’re talking about. I use a dental tooth model all the time, just to show them what’s happening with the bite and how we’ll correct it.”
3. Standardize Your Codes
Many hospitals have groupings or super codes in their practice management software for common surgeries and procedures. Camilo recommends creating a code grouping for oral surgery and customizing it for each case. He also suggests charging by the type of tooth, not for the length of surgery.
“If (anesthesia) takes you a half-hour, you should charge for a half-hour, but charging for oral surgery by the minute just doesn’t work because the same surgery will take different doctors different amounts of time,” Camilo said.
4. Package Services
Have a wellness plan that includes dental care and price it aggressively.
“We can predict that every pet needs certain vaccines each year. We can predict that every pet needs an exam every year or twice a year,” Camilo said. “These are things we know. And the best way to do it is to throw all your wellness care — vaccines, bloodwork, office visits and teeth cleaning with oral X-rays — into a wellness plan that you sell at a super affordable rate so clients can’t say no.”
At Your Pet’s Vets, clients pay $59 to sign up and then $50 a month for the wellness plan.
“That’s $659 a year, which is less than what some practices charge just for an annual teeth cleaning,” Camilo said.
5. Charge Less for Cleanings
“Most practices are overcharging for their cleanings,” Camilo said. “They think that revenue comes from doing teeth cleanings, but that’s not the case. The revenue comes when you get good at finding and treating disease.”
Animal Dental Clinic, Dr. Weldon’s second location, is booked “months and months in advance” because its prices are so reasonable, she said.
“That’s our business model,” Dr. Weldon said. “Our dentals are between $300 and $360 for X-rays, cleaning, the whole deal. We’ll even offer half-off coupons and other specials to get people in the door. It’s a no-brainer for us because nine out of 10 pets need additional care when something is discovered on the X-ray or during the exam.”
6. Incentivize Forward-Booking
Dr. Weldon’s practice credits $50 toward the next dental cleaning when the pet owner books the appointment before leaving the practice.
“It gets people on the books before they leave,” she said, “and that way they don’t have to remember to schedule it six months or a year later.”
7. Offer More Choices
The team at Animal Dental Clinic promotes additional products and services during dental cleanings, like fluoride treatments, sealants and home-care products. These not only help to improve a pet’s oral health, but they also add to the practice’s bottom line.
8. Educate the Entire Team
“It’s so important that the entire team — from the front-desk staff and assistants to the technicians and doctors — are bought into how important dentistry is,” Dr. Weldon said. “They need to know how to educate clients, and they need to take the time to properly do it with every phone call or office visit.”
9. Talk About It Early
Oral health should be discussed at every wellness exam, even for young pets and those with little to no dental disease, Dr. Weldon said.
“Why wait until it’s a dental level 3 or 4?” she said. “That’s not preventive care. That’s handling problems after the fact. We can’t reverse any of that. All we can do is fix it, and then start to talk about home care and regular care at that point. But why wait?”
3 BARRIERS TO REGULAR DENTAL CARE
The American Animal Hospital Association’s Veterinary Fee Reference, 11th Edition, reported that among 259 AAHA-accredited and non-accredited members, the median price for a dental case was $494.
Monique Weldon, DVM, and Paul Camilo, CVPM, argue that many practices are charging much more than that to increase their dental revenue.
“The cost of dental services has skyrocketed, making it unlikely that most pets will receive the regular dental care they need,” Dr. Weldon said.
“I want pets to come in every year for a dental cleaning, and I don’t want their owners to have to pay $800 to $1,200 for it.”
Insufficient Dentistry Education
“Unfortunately, many DVMs still see dentistry as an elective procedure,” Camilo said. “They don’t view a broken tooth in the same way that they view a broken leg, but both need to be treated, otherwise the animal suffers. Universities need to provide more dental education during veterinary school.”
At Dr. Weldon’s Animal Dental Clinic, she often sees pets at dental Level 3, with visible abscessed teeth, gum recession and mobile teeth. “And more times than not, the owner will tell me that they were just at the vet a month ago and they were told that their dog didn’t need a dental cleaning,” she said.
Insufficient Client Education
“We need to make people more aware that dental care is providing longevity and healthier, happier pets,” Dr. Weldon said. “They’re living longer and experiencing less pain because of dental care.”
Veterinary teams, she said, are not adequately educating clients on:
- The link between dental health and overall health.
- The pain that dental disease can cause and the signs of oral pain.
- How to provide proper dental home care to pets.
- Recommended dental products that carry the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of approval.
- Safe and unsafe chew toys.