Dog Days of Dentistry: An Inside Look at Dental Therapy Dogs

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Therapy dogs are providing dentists with a non-medicinal option to help relax patients stressing about taking a seat in the dental chair.

Auggie and Folly. One’s a chocolate lab. The other, a golden doodle. One calls Washington home, while the other resides in Mississippi. Two different dogs, two different states, but one common purpose – stress relief.

Patients at both Uptown Dental in Ridgeland, MS and Aadland Dental in Vancouver, WA are often greeted by a big grin and a wagging tail. It’s a welcoming sight for many who fear their trips to the dental office. Auggie, Dr. Kristine Aadland’s chocolate lab, and Folly, Dr. Michelle Crews’ golden doodle, are therapy dogs who, like their owners, spend their days putting the perfect smile on people’s faces.

“You just can’t help but smile when they come up, which helps lower blood pressure and calms people down,” said Aadland. “My lab is just constantly wagging his tail and happy to see people.”

Dr. Aadland built her own office in 2010 with the full intention of having a therapy dog. At the time, her chocolate lab named Bronco assumed that role. At the age of 12, he has since gone into retirement and made way for three-year old Auggie.

“He gets lots of requests for him to come in [the operatory],” Aadland said. “Even on social media, whenever we post something about Auggie or Bronco, that’s always our highest responses.”


Auggie and Bronco


It’s a similar story for Dr. Crews, who decided to get her golden doodle named Folly with the idea of her becoming the office’s therapy dog.

“We cater a lot to patients who need sedation and are apprehensive,” said Crews. “We have a very high-technology practice, so I just wanted to offer more services. This is just kind of a non-medicinal way to reduce anxiety.”

Both Auggie and Folly are certified to be therapy dogs in a dental setting.

Growing up in a dental office has made both dogs mellow and eager to please, making them the right temperament to help reduce anxiety. Reducing patient stress is something both Aadland and Crews take very seriously.

“Nobody likes getting in the chair and being worked on, so anything you can do to make it a more pleasurable experience certainly helps,” said Crews.

“I am really scared as a patient, even today, so I feel like I kind of attract those patients and I just try and cater to them and make sure they’re comfortable because I know what I feel like in those situations,” echoed Aadland.

The dogs each understand their role and know to only go where they are wanted. Both doctors understand not everyone enjoys dogs, so Auggie and Folly only come around when requested.

According to Dr. Aadland, about 50-percent of her patients want to spend some time with Auggie.

There is also hardly a day that Dr. Crews doesn’t see Folly making a positive impact on patients’ lives.

“She’s the perfect height to just put her head in the patient’s lap and let them pet her,” she said. “It’s really not even that you have to have the dog chairside, as much as it is having the dog greet the patient and come in while they’re sitting in the chair and getting ready for the appointment. If you set that calming mood at the beginning of the appointment, the rest of the appointment goes so much smoother.”


Folly


While these therapy dogs are a great way to reduce patient stressors, they both also have a nice side effect – creating a more relaxing work environment. Both Dr. Aadland and Dr. Crews notice their dogs have the same effect on their teams as they do on their patients.

“Everybody if they’re stressed or it’s just a busy day, I’ll notice that Folly is sitting beside them and they’re petting her while they’re writing up their notes,” said Crews.

While Dr. Aadland also pointed out how much her team loves Auggie, there’s also a safety aspect she loves about having her big chocolate lab with her.

“We have 12 women at our office every day, so safety-wise it even feels good,” said Aadland. “If it’s dark in the morning or dark at night, it’s nice to have a big dog with you. He’s great at sensing when something just isn’t right.”

With all the stress and anxiety that comes from either going to the dentist or working as a dental professional, it’s great to have man’s best friend by your side.