Patient anxiety is a long-standing challenge that every dentist will have to grapple with at some point in their careers. Different tactics to combat patient anxiety have surfaced over the years, but today the latest trend is that of the dental therapy animal. These trained and certified animals, usually dogs, are being featured at an increasing number of dental practices across the country, providing a sense of ease and comfort to the anxious dental patient, children and adults alike.
Applewood Family Dental in Woodbury, MN, is one such practice that currently offers the services of a dental therapy dog. Molly, a 5-year-old cocker spaniel, has served as their resident dental therapy dog since July of last year. Molly completed her special training through Pet Partners, a national program founded in 1977, after finding strong evidence in research that animal companionship helped “reduce blood pressure, lower stress and anxiety levels, and stimulate the release of endorphins which make people feel good.” Molly is able to do all of this for many anxious patients at Applewood Family Dental. Patients are invited to pet Molly, or even have her sit in their laps to help them feel soothed, happy, and relaxed. She is great with children, which is very inspiring, says Dr. Brian Kraby. “It helps create a lifelong change about dentistry,” he says, as kids may often develop fears about the dentist at a very early age.
Molly is favorited among adults, as well, which is of even greater importance to Dr. Kraby. As many adults have developed deep-seated issues or dental phobias over decades, Dr. Kraby believes the most significant benefit that Molly has brought to his practice is a new found willingness and openness in adult patients. Despite knowing that they are in need of care, many patients are often “so phobic that they don’t see the dentist for an extended period of time,” he says. “Sometimes we need to think out of the box in order to give patients the treatment they need,” Dr. Kraby explains. “Hospitals have been doing this for years,” he says. “If hospitals can do it, why can’t dental offices?”
Dr. Kraby, along with an increasing number of dentists across the country, are on the verge of something big. With the help of therapy dogs like Molly, more patients may potentially have a (cute and furry!) alternative to IV sedation or nitrous oxide to relieve their anxiety in the dental chair.
Dental therapy dogs may very well be sweeping the whole doggone nation in the next few years! What do you think? Let us know in a comments section below!
~Alyson Ilustre, Oklahoma ’17, associate, chapter activities committee