We can all agree a trip to the dentist is Zero Fun. But for some people, especially kiddos, a visit to the dentist can be terrifying. Parents worry about an Oscar-winning tantrum to avoid getting in the chair. But who can blame the kids? None of us like masked professionals digging around in our mouths.
Which is why a number of dentists have employed therapy dogs to take the edge off for nervous and uncertain patients. These dogs are trained to provide comfort and affection (and detect when people need it). A therapy dog will place her head on a patient’s lap, climb into the dentist’s chair and wag her tail (because hopping up there is really no big deal!), or offer her soft fur to calm a patient’s nervous system and remind him everything will be okay.
These days, more dentists across the U.S. are making service dogs an essential part of their practice. For some, they’ve become as important as the dentist’s drill! These are just a few of the loving, hard-working dogs making a difference.
JoJo the therapy dog landed on Buzzfeed last year for her ability to literally hug patients’ anxiety away in the dentist’s office. JoJo, a golden retriever, has been working as a therapy dog for years, offering her gentle personality to folks in nursing homes and disaster areas. She visited schools in Sandy Hook, CT, to help alleviate fear and trauma after the mass shootings in 2012.
“Her paw is always available to hold. One girl was having her teeth extracted, and she just stroked JoJo’s ears the whole time.”
One of JoJo’s handlers, Lynne Ryan, has worked as a dental hygienist for more than 20 years and realized JoJo should be working her magic in a new realm of health care. As Ryan told Buzzfeed, “Her paw is always available to hold. One girl was having her teeth extracted, and she just stroked JoJo’s ears the whole time.”
JoJo is so attuned to the human heart that Ryan calls her the Queen of Lean. She’ll walk right up to you and lean gently into your legs, as if to say, Go for it. Get your pet on! I know you need it.
Dr. Golden opened his dental practice in Woodbridge, VA, in 1976 and says he considered getting a therapy dog all those decades ago, but he worried his office was too small. Once he opened a 10,000 square-foot space, he had no excuse. He adopted Flossie, a Cavachon (Bichon Frise mixed with King Charles Cavalier Spaniel) and named her Flossie. At six months old, she began her therapy-dog training and certification process. She’s now three years old and in high demand among patients who want to spend their visit snuggling with her.
Flossie is free to roam about the building looking for patients who can use some affection. If she takes a break and Dr. Golden tells her “back to work,” she knows to find a human and make their appointment a little easier to swallow (pun intended!).
Flossie’s done such a great job that Dr. Golden’s partner adopted her half-sister, Lexa, and now they work as a team to assist patients.
Dr. Weiss in Williamsburg, NY, was once just a dentist and dog owner. But he noticed his golden retriever had the ability to make people smile just by walking down the sidewalk, so he put her through therapy training, and she now works part-time at Dr. Weiss’s practice. Some patients come from several towns over because Brooke is there to serve as a companion.
Some patients come from several towns over because Brooke is there to serve as a companion.
Dr. Weiss says Brooke is so tuned-in to humans that she can tell when certain patients are facing additional challenges, like autism or cerebral palsy. “I’ve been able to do procedures on autistic kids that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do without Brooke. She keeps them calm. I’ve had parents in tears because of the good Brooke has done their children.”
As if humans weren’t already lucky to have canine friends at home, therapy dogs are now actively providing comfort to humans in many different arenas. Therapy dogs visit children’s hospitals and nursing homes, as well as prisons, where they bring joy and life into sometimes dreary and hopeless situations. These professional dogs work with paramedics to help them deal with the traumatic and grisly events they witness on a daily basis. Or they visit elementary schools, where their interactions with students help increase academic, social, and emotional learning.
In many cases, the unspoken connection between humans and animals can do more than talk therapy or mood-related drugs. Thankfully, more and more humans are fostering therapy dogs and helping connect them with those who could use a big four-legged, furry hug to get through a difficult emotional experience.