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Using the Right Terminology

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

Clients rely on the veterinary staff to provide them with vital and accurate information. Unfortunately, the staff may have difficulty conveying a message to the pet parent. Terms may be used that the client doesn’t understand or slang is used that may not impart the importance of the message.

Communicating with clients about dental procedures is no different. The language used needs to change in order to help the owners grasp the importance of dentistry. Here are a few terms that should never be used and terms that can be substituted to gain compliance with medical needs.

Dental or Dentistry– This term doesn’t really mean anything. It is a slang term that pet parents don’t fully understand and may think is only a tooth brushing. This term can be replaced with Professional Dental Cleaning, COHAT (Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment), OAT (Oral Assessment and Treatment), ATP (Assessment and Treatment Plan), or Periodontal Therapy.

Prophy – Unfortunately most dental procedures are not prophylactic procedures but a treatment of the oral disease that is already present. Hopefully, someday we will truly be performing prophies on a majority of our patients.

Periodontal Disease – Many clients may not truly understand this term unless they have it themselves. Use the terms – infection, and pain instead. Clients understand infection and pain. Periodontal disease is an infection of the tissues surrounding the teeth and can be painful to our pets.

Recommend – Don’t say “the doctor recommends a professional dental cleaning.” A recommendation is just a suggestion. Say instead – “Your pet needs a professional dental cleaning.”

Replace should with need and could with must. This helps to tell the owner this is important and needs to be taken care of soon. If an owner hears “The pet needs to have a professional dental cleaning and it must be scheduled soon to prevent the infection from getting worse and risking tooth loss and systemic health problems” they are more likely to schedule the procedure instead of waiting.

Changing the vocabulary used in the veterinary practice can improve compliance.

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