A dog in a dental office would have been very out of the ordinary 50 years ago. But, we continue to learn about the benefits of therapy dogs and how our cuddly companions reduce anxiety. More dental offices are using trained therapy dogs today to calm their patients during procedures than ever before.
What are Therapy Dogs?
The American Kennel Club explains that therapy dogs and their owners visit locations and people of all kinds to “work together as a team to improve the lives of other people.”
We have direct evidence today that having an “interaction with a friendly companion animal, in particular, a dog,” positively affects us and provides a reduction of stress. The effects have been compared to sitting at rest for 15 minutes, as well as compared to sitting quietly reading a book. Each time, the experience with a dog “effectively reduce[d] heart rate and blood pressure,” more than the other activities.
According to the American Kennel Club, significant strides in animal-assisted therapy have been made since the 1980s. Screening programs and procedures for both volunteers and dogs, liability insurance, and various studies on its impact have made the use of therapy dogs widely praised.
In the dental office, this means that therapy dogs can be used as a non-invasive way to provide stress-relief to anxious patients without medication. Dr. Marra in Phoenix, Arizona told CBS5, “It’s amazing how much it calms down patients. […] We are using less nitric oxide, less local anesthetic. Even patients who aren’t afraid say it’s much more relaxing.”
Not only are patients relaxed, but they’re excited to go to the dentist when there are distractions like Macie, Brooke, and Flossie.
Macie and the Benefits of Therapy Dogs
Macie, the dental therapy dog, works in San Antonio, Texas. She’s a Certified American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen (AKC CGC) and a Terrier-Poodle-Cavalier King Charles Spaniel mix. Macie comes to the office on Thursdays and Fridays for what the staff and patients have come to know as “Macie Work Day.”
When patients call in to schedule their appointments, they have the option to be scheduled on a “Macie Work Day.” On these days, patients spend time holding, petting, or even napping alongside Macie. The patients report she provides relief to their anxiety.
Brooke and the Benefits of Therapy Dogs
In Williamsburg, N.Y., a pediatric dental practice has a similar employee to Macie. Brooke, a year-old golden retriever, snuggles the stress from her young patients. Dr. Paul Weiss says enrolled Brooke in a two-week boot camp for therapy dogs because, “I decided that if it was so easy for her to make people smile, she must have a greater purpose than to just be my ‘pet’.”
Brooke passed a rigorous training course through Therapy Dogs International so that she’d have the proper bedside manner in the dental office. Now she spends one day a week helping kids feel comfortable getting into the dental chair.
Brooke is bathed before each visit and patients are notified about “Brooke Days” when scheduling their appointment. People posting on the office’s Facebook page from all over the country lauded Dr. Weiss for bringing the benefits of therapy dogs into his practice.
What Flossie in Virginia Does for Patients
An official member of Dr. Alan Golden’s staff, Flossie the Bichon Frisee and King Charles Cavalier Spaniel mix is both hypoallergenic and does not shed. Dr. Golden feels this, and his spacious 10,000 square-foot-facility are optimal for having a therapy dog in the dental office.
“You don’t want patients and your dental team tripping over a dog,” he said. “You need space.”
Dr. Golden discussed his process for finding the right pup for his practice with the ADA, explaining that he steered away from rescue dogs and found Cavachons “were good-looking, smart dogs that are also relatively easy to train.
“They seem to be very good with children,” he said. “I also wanted a dog big enough to withstand being pushed around by toddlers, but not so big that they would scare any kids.”
The ADA writes that “there is no dog that is completely hypoallergenic leading some patients to request to avoid Flossie. On these occasions, Flossie is sent to a small fenced-in area with a doggie bed — the same place where she naps when the dental team members are on their lunch break.”
To Reap the Benefits of Therapy Dogs in Your Dental Office, Consider:
- Is there enough room in the office?
- Is the dog you’re choosing hypoallergenic?
- What is the breed’s temperament?
- Will you inform patients when the therapy dog is in?
- Where will you train the dog for proper behavior?
Are you considering bringing therapy dogs into your dental practice? Comment below and share if you think therapy dogs could be beneficial at the dentist.