Therapy Dog helps calm dentists’ patients

dog and dentist2Molly’s contributions to the field of dentistry are often acknowledged with a smile and a pat on the head.

On most days, the 4-year-old cocker spaniel roams Applewood Family Dental in Woodbury, MN waiting to be summoned to comfort a fidgety patient.

Some people are so averse to dental work that they regularly skip cleanings or push back appointments, Dr. Brian Kraby said. To help address the problem, he decided to bring in Molly to help ease patients’ minds as they sat in his chair.

Therapy dogs long have taken part in similar programs to counter anxiety and depression in schools, libraries, hospitals and nursing homes. But Kraby said he believes Applewood is the first dental office in the state to adopt the practice.

“If that’s going to help other people for probably more traumatic situations in life, why can’t a dental office do it?” he said.

“A lot of times in dental schools you’re trained to do something just a certain way. You’re never really trained to think outside of the box.”

Kraby said he was initially skeptical when Mary Reck, his dental assistant and Molly’s trainer, came to him with the idea shortly after he bought the office in April. It only took a few appointments to change his mind.

“I’m trying to reach out to that segment of the population that won’t see a dentist, wouldn’t consider doing just routine stuff to keep the preventive aspect of things under control,” Kraby said.

On a recent morning, 10-year-old Hugh Witzmann patted Molly’s black fur with one hand while gripping the armrest with the other. The work he needed done took no more than 20 minutes, and Hugh appeared visibly relieved when it was done.

He said he was comforted by Molly’s presence. “It kind of doesn’t freak you out as much.”

Molly, who also has worked at battered women’s shelters and with children of alcoholics, had a lot of training before she was allowed to interact with patients.

She and Reck completed four obedience classes and an eight-week class at AllBreed Obedience, a dog-training school in Woodbury that partners with Pet Partners, a national nonprofit organization that brings therapy dogs to the sick and elderly.

Therapy dogs must be “comfortable in their own skin. They’re comfortable around people,” All Breed owner Debra Schneider said Monday. “These are dogs that from the get-go enjoy being around humans and have absolutely no signs of being reactive” to outside stimuli, including loud noises and other dogs.

Hypoallergenic breeds make for good therapy dogs, but Reck said that the animals — Molly included — are wiped down with disinfectant after every visit.

Dr. Edward Creagan, an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic, noted several benefits of partnering animals with patients in a video interview on Pet Partners’ website.

“When you look into the eyes of that cat, when you stroke that dog, when you hold that animal there is a surge of hormones deep within the center of the brain and these hormones provide a tremendous feeling of peace, of serenity, of tranquility. They decrease our blood pressure, they decrease our pulse, they lessen our depression,” Creagan said.


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