A Jacksonville Beach dental practice is using a trained and certified therapy dog to calm current patients and attract new patients who otherwise would be too scared to go to a dentist. Local dentists could use this model in their own practices, while advertising the calming benefits of therapy animals.
The dentist, Scott Wagner, already took every measure to provide a warm, friendly, calm environment for his patients. But for some fearful customers, the computer screen showing a calm ocean and beach scene, nor the decor with soothing colors are enough to quell the anxiety.
"A 2‑year-old, three-legged Weimaraner named Shadow is a calm dog and, is allowing patients to forego their normal nitrous or laughing gas," Beth Reese Cravey wrote in The Florida Times-Union. "Shadow also helps keep Wagner and the staff relaxed. “He loves everybody and everybody loves Shadow,” dental assistant Maria Glover said. “He’s amazing.”
"As many as 20 percent of Americans avoid going to the dentist because of anxiety or fear, Scott Wagner said. He wanted to make the experience less intimidating for his patients."
This fear could be very real for the 23% of adults planning to have dental fillings, crown, bridges or root canals during the next 12 months, according to the new AudienceSCAN survey results.
"Shadow underwent extensive therapy-dog training through Rescue Me! Making a Woof Connection, a Jacksonville dog training program run by Andrea Jaffe. He learned how to be around people in close quarters, navigate the dental treatment rooms and not react to the sounds of drills and other equipment, among other things, she said."
"Shadow goes to work with Wagner a few days a week. Many patients request his presence for their appointments, but staff take pains to make sure he isn’t around other patients who fear or don’t like dogs."
Dental offices could promote their therapy animals in direct mail. The new AudienceSCAN study found 41% of Dental Procedure Patients took action after opening ads/coupons from their mailboxes in the past month.
"The practice has to carry additional liability insurance to have an animal onsite, Wagner said, but the Health Department and dental regulatory boards have no special permitting process."
“Obviously, we make special precautions for him and he is not allowed in the office on particular days or when we are working on difficult procedures,” Wagner said. “For my own comfort, I made sure that he went through full training, certification and testing. … I not only enjoy him being around, but I feel comfortable considering the amount of preparation that went into it.”
Another great way to calm potential patients is through TV. The new AudienceSCAN study showed 39% of Dental Procedure Patients took action after watching commercials in the past month.
"American Dental Association spokesman Mike Bittner and Florida Dental Association spokeswoman Liz Shawnen said they have no data about how many dentists have therapy dogs or whether it is a trend in dentistry."
"Wagner said the response from patients affirmed his initial thought that Shadow had the appropriate temperament to be a therapy dog. But Shadow still has sessions with trainer Jaffe at least once a month “so he doesn’t develop bad habits,” he said.