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Therapy Dogs at the Dentist?

Last week, our blog highlighted one of the treatment options for our extremely fearful or anxious patients: IV sedation.  This new option at Designer Smiles allows a patient to sleep throughout their entire appointment, missing any anxiety-inducing sights and sounds.

This week, our blog highlights another special offering at Designer Smiles for anxious patients: our very own therapy dog.

What is Animal-Assisted Therapy?

Most people know that dogs have been used to provide assistance to people who are blind or have poor vision as “seeing eye dogs”.  These service dogs enable their owners increased independence and mobility that they would not otherwise have.

Other service dogs can predict the onset of seizures and sniff out dangerous changes in blood sugar for diabetic patients.  These dogs literally save lives!

In recent years, there has been a trend toward the use of “therapy dogs” for patients with severe anxiety or depression.  With this trend comes scientific research studying what benefits a therapy dog provides in various situations.

You may have seen some rather unusual animals claimed to be “therapy animals” in the news, like peacocks and snakes.  For our purposes, we will be talking about dogs only, as these are the most common and most researched therapy animals at this time.

What Benefits Does a Therapy Dog Provide?

Research into animal-assisted therapy shows that in most patients, the presence of the right animal can help nervous patients have a positive experience in an otherwise frightening environment.  There is still ongoing research into the exact physiological changes produced by the presence of a therapy dog.

Some proven benefits are:

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Improved mood
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Stronger immunity
  • Improved social interactions
  • Happiness

We believe that these benefits can drastically improve someone’s experience in our office!

Who Would NOT Benefit from a Therapy Dog?

We know not all people are dog people.  Some patients are allergic.  Others are afraid of dogs.  Then there are some people who just don’t like them.  And that’s okay.

There are also some medical concerns with the use of therapy dogs.  The risk of transferring any illness from a dog to a human is extremely low, almost unheard of.  However, patients with a compromised immune system and severe allergies are not considered candidates for treatment with a therapy dog present.

If you fall into this category, do not worry!

You will never see or hear the presence of a dog in our office unless you specifically request to.  The majority of our patients have no idea this is even an option.  We want to make it known that this is available, but we do not want to concern anyone who is afraid of or severely allergic to dogs.  Please let us know if you fall into this category!

How Does Designer Smiles Implement a Therapy Dog?

Dr. Ann’s miniature schnauzer, Blanche, is our resident therapy dog!  She comes to work each day and rests in the doctors’ office.  Blanche’s “responsibilities” run the gamut from just sleeping all day and letting the occasional patient come in to pet her to spending an entire visit in the operatory with a patient while we perform their dental treatment.

Miniature schnauzers are hypoallergenic because they shed very little, so her presence in a neighboring room should not irritate anyone with dog allergies.

The quick boost in mood when petting a dog can reduce the anxiety many patients feel when they walk into a dentist’s office.  Having a therapy dog in the room with you during dental work often takes your mind off the procedure being done and has you focusing on the dog instead.

The psychological benefits of therapy dogs are well-documented.  In our effort to make each and every patient as comfortable as possible, we are proud to offer this as an option for you.

Would You Like to Meet Blanche?

Blanche works every day that Dr. Ann does.  If you are in for a visit and would like to give her some loving and boost your own mood, just let the ladies at our front desk know.

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