Tonight I was on Facebook and saw a post from a student who was so excited that her clinic was offering a 10% discount on dental cleanings this month.  This got my attention and I wanted to address the problem with discounting dental or any procedures.  Dental Health Month is a wonderful opportunity to promote the overall well being of our pets 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 1990’s as a way 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 a general practice in 2005, our clinic also participated in Dental Discount Month by offering a 10% discount on dental cleanings.  This 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!  

First was in late September when after performing a conscious oral exam on an older dog with Grade 8 out of 4 periodontal disease!  I mean 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.  I created a treatment plan and went over every detail with 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 tell the owner….”if you wait until February, it will be 10% off for that procedure.”  I was flabbergasted!  I had a long talk with that receptionist after the owner left the practice!  

The next time, I really knew this was a problem was 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 dogs 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 dogs teeth all year round, not just in February.  

To overcome the first problem in the practice, we began offering the 10% discount if the owner scheduled the procedure within 30 days of the recommendation but soon everyone was getting the 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 for clients and very few even asked about the discount.  I came to the conclusion that we have 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 importance of the procedure 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 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.  This means 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 and open house and discuss dental care or write an article for the local newspaper.