If you’re a dog lover, you probably already know the comforting feeling you get from patting a warm, fluffy canine in times of stress. A dental practice in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, is capitalizing on that comforting feeling and allowing patients to cuddle with an office dog during their dental cleanings.
Ellie the schnauzer belongs to dental hygienist Nicole Kielly. Kielly began bringing Ellie to work with her after a case of advanced juvenile cataracts left Ellie completely blind - and left Kielly wondering what to do with the dog when she was at work. Following corrective surgery, Kielly decided to start bringing Ellie to work with her so she could keep a closer eye on her while she recovered. But while the procedure eventually restored Ellie’s vision, patients didn't want Kielly to leave Ellie home - she had become a staple around the clinic, helping to calm patients while Kielly cleans their teeth.
The benefits of having a therapy animal are real. Studies have shown that even just spending several minutes with a pet can help reduce blood pressure and anxiety, and can boost serotonin and dopamine levels, promoting feelings of calmness. But even despite all this positive data, some dentists are skeptical about how integrating pets into their practice could really work.
Dr. Stephen Hill is a dentist in Allen, Texas. He thinks the idea of having a therapy dog on staff is a commendable one, but not necessarily a practical one here in America.
"For all the benefits of having a therapy dog in-office, there are a lot of hurdles you’d have to work around," he says. "The first thing that comes to mind are the germs."
Hill has a point. Dogs, for all their benefits, aren’t exactly sterile and would pose additional challenges in a facility performing delicate surgeries and medical procedures.
"And what about patients who are allergic to dogs?" Hill says.
While Ellie the dog is a schnauzer and said to be hypo-allergenic, according to Hill, many dentists would not want to run the risk of having even an allergen-free animal wandering around.
"Even if nothing ever happens, if a patient is allergic to dogs, chances are they’re not going to want to risk a reaction, and they may just take their business elsewhere," he says.
"Fear," says Hill. "Not everyone loves dogs. Some people don’t like them, and some people are terrified of even the sweetest, calmest dogs. If you add that to the fear of going to the dentist, you’ve got a recipe for disaster, and it kind of defeats the purpose of having an in-office pet in the first place."
Still, Hill believes that using a therapy dog for special occasions or when the dog belongs to the patient is a pretty good idea.
"If a patient has a therapy dog that accompanies them, that is something most dentists will work with," he says. "As long as the dog has the proper certification."