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How a Therapy Dog-in-Training is Helping Kids Cope at the Dentist

By Aly Semigran    November 29, 2016 at 07:09PM

As a kid going to the dentist, the best part of the visit is usually to the toy chest. But a dental practice in Indiana is giving their young patients something to truly smile about. 

 

This year Fishers Pediatric Dentistry introduced a therapy pup in training named Pearly to patients who need the calm comfort of an adorable dog by their sides during dental procedures. 

 

At six-months-old, this hypoallergenic Miniature Australian Labradoodle has quickly changed the lives of patients—and the staff."I thought it would help [having a therapy dog in the office], I just didn’t realize how much it would help," Dr. Misti Pratt, one of the dentists at the practice, tells petMD. 

 

Dr. Ana Vazquez, the lead doctor at Fishers Pediatric Dentistry, came up with the idea after seeing how happy her own pets made her daughter. Pearly, who lives with Vazquez and her family, comes into the office whenever she does and is made available to patients who request her services. The pup is kept in a separate area of the facility and is only brought to those who request her. This helps alleviate any problems for patients who are afraid of dogs.

 

Pearly's services include sitting on the laps of patients who are getting anything from a routine cleaning to a cavity filled. The plesant distraction of petting a well-behaved pup helps people get through the unpleasant procedures. 

 

Pearly stays in Dr. Vazquez's office until a patient needs her, but she keeps regular hours—like any working member of the staff. "We respect her naps," Vazquez says, "She’s still a puppy." 

 

"If a patient wants her and she’s on duty, we bring Pearly with one of the team members we have been training," Vazquez says. "We don’t let her run around anywhere she wants. She’s still in training." 

 

In fact, training has been a crucial part of this process, not only for Pearly, but for staff members as well. From the doctors to the administrators, Fishers Pediactric Dentistry has been under the tutelage of a dog trainer who helps them learn to handle Pearly in their office environment. 

 

Pearly, who will continue to be trained for the next six to eight months, has not only learned how to be a friendly, calming presence for patients, but she's become familiar with the strange sights and sounds of a dentist's office. Getting Pearly used her surroundings was Vazquez's top priority. 

 

As Pearly continues her training, the staff has already noticed a huge difference in their patients—especially young children and people with special needs. 

 

"Having a child sit still is difficult at the dentist. [Pearly] is not just a rewarding tool, she gives them a reason to sit still," says Pratt. "That changes the whole behavior of the patient, not just having the comfort, they know they are responsible for Pearly in their lap. It's amazing how much it has helped in the success we’ve seen with the patients." 

 

Of course, Pearly makes the entire office pretty happy whenever she's there. "It puts us in a good mood," says Vazquez. "How can you not be happy around a beautiful dog?" 

 

Image via Fishers Pediatric Dentistry 

 

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