Creature comforts – Dr Michael Sultan

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  Posted by: Dental Design      13th March 2019


It’s a longstanding topic in dentistry, but thinking of ways to ensure that we make our patients feel comfortable, welcome, and less anxious in the dental practice is a subject that will continually bring new ideas to life. I was browsing through the headlines recently when I saw an article about therapy dogs being introduced into dental practices in Australia, and how these can calm patients – especially younger patients who suffer from dental anxieties.[i]This impressed on me for a number of reasons: firstly, because according to the article the method really seemed to work, and secondly because it is such a simple idea that could well be something that British practices could start introducing themselves.

As we all know, anxieties in patients of younger age groups are a big problem. It’s estimated that almost 60% of the population in some areas of the world have some degree of dental anxiety.[ii]When we delve deeper into the figures it is also revealed that in young people and adolescents, 5-20% have been found to suffer serious anxieties and phobias towards the dentist.[iii]This is especially worrying as children and young adults who have dental phobias are very likely to take these fears with them into adulthood, which may lead to them avoiding necessary dental care and developing serious problems. Therefore, anything that can help to relieve anxieties in these age groups has got to be a good thing – especially when the results seem so unanimously positive.

Of course, the idea of therapy dogs is not actually all that novel. Man’s best friend has been supplying support and succour to humans for millennia, and in countries such as America, Norway and Brazil, therapy dogs are already an established practice. According to the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, their special training allows canine companions to visit hospitals, special need centres, schools, nursing homes, and dental offices as well as many other environments where people may be feeling stressed, overwhelmed and scared.[iv]

Whilst naysayers will raise their arguments against fluffy friends entering the practice, research has proven that the presence of these animals can help patients in a lot of ways – not only by lowering levels of anxiety but also by positively affecting aspects such as blood pressure.[v]Data collected also seems to prove that our canine chums actually enjoy this kind of work, and get the same sort of happiness from spending time with patients as the patients do by spending time with them.[vi]

So why haven’t we introduced animal assisted therapy in more dental practices across England? Arguably one of the main reasons against this sort of treatment is that it would require a lot of animals to undergo specialist training. In countries where therapy dogs are established, there are various organisations that commit to this training in order to make the service available for the schools, hospitals and dental practices that require them. Although in the article I read the dentist himself trained the dog, this sort of training can be intensive and may not suit dogs of all personalities and breeds. Plus, without these supportive organisations available on a wide level, implementing animal assisted care is simply not an option, as the dogs would not receive the proper training they require to ensure that they can comfort patients effectively.

Of course, consideration must be taken towards patients as well. Though many people would jump at the chance to cuddle a dog in the waiting room, the fact remains that some people may have allergies to dogs and/or may not even particularly like them in the first place. This raises the question as to whether introducing these animal assistants may alienate certain patients, resulting in practices losing business if patients feel like the dog is more of a deterrent than a comforting presence.

Another problem surrounding assist animals is that of hygiene. We all know that infection control and hygiene standards are already a big issue in dental practices, so how would the introduction of animals affect this? In the article that inspired this piece, the dentist in Australia states that his dog is restricted from going near any machinery or certain areas of the practice. Does this mean assist dogs are best relegated simply to waiting rooms? What if a child wants the dog with them when they are receiving treatment?

At the end of the day, the idea behind canine companions in healthcare settings is encouraging but not without flaws. They’ve been proven to help reduce anxieties and make patients happy – but we cannot ignore the fact that animals will always come with certain hygiene risks that may be difficult to overcome. As such, if we do follow the example set by countries such as Australia and America, we need to ensure that there are strict protocols in place, no matter how charming the puppy eyes of our canine friends can be!


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EndoCare, led by Dr Michael Sultan, is one of the UK’s most trusted Specialist Endodontist practices. Through the use of the latest technologies and techniques, the highly-trained team can offer exceptional standards of care – always putting the patient first. What’s more, EndoCare is a dependable referral centre, to which dentists from across the country send their patients for the best in specialist endodontic treatment.



[i]The Mail Online. The Dreaded Dental Visit Becomes a Whole Lot Cuddlier as Comet the Labradoodle Becomes a Therapy Dog for Anxious Young Patients. Link:[Last accessed September 18].

[ii]Saatchi, M., Abtahi, M., Mohammadi, G., Mirdamadi, M., Binandeh, E. The Prevalence of Dental Anxiety and Fear in Patients Referred to Isfahan Dental School, Iran. Dent Res J (Isfahan). 2015; 12(3): 248–253.

[iii]Gao, X., Hamzah, S., Yiu, C., McGrath, C., King, N. Dental Fear and Anxiety in Children and Adolescents: Qualitative Study Using YouTube. J Med Internet Res. 2013; 15(2): e29.

[iv]Alliance of Therapy Dogs. Caring people & Sweet Dogs. Link: [Last accessed September 18].

[v]Cole, K., Gawlinski, A., Steers, N., Kotlerman, J. Animal-Assisted Therapy in Patients Hospitalized with Heart Failure. Am J Crit Care. 2007; 16(6): 575-85.

[vi]McCullough, A., Jenkins, M., Ruehrdanz, A., Gilmer, M., Olson, J., Pawar, A., Holley, L., Sierra-Rivera, S., Linder, D., Pichette, D., Grossman, N., Hellman, C., Guerin, N., O’Haire, M. Physiological and Behavioural Effects of Animal-Assisted Interventions on Therapy Dogs in Pediatric Oncology Settings. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 2018; 200: 86-95.

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