By Dental Tribune International

To help with the lowering of stress and anxiety in some patients who find undergoing dental treatment difficult, dogs have been introduced in dental practices from as far as Chile to Canada. In the first study of its kind in Scandinavia, Dr Anne Margrete Gussgard, associate professor at the University of Tromsø, has begun looking into the effects of animal-assisted therapy to understand more about it.

“We know what effect dogs have on people. Their heart rate becomes calmer and the blood pressure decreases. There is more oxytocin in the blood and less cortisol. Nevertheless, there are no studies specifically related to therapy dogs during dental treatment, so here is the time to do some studies,” said Gussgard in an interview with the University of Tromsø.

Having completed her periodontal studies at the University of Toronto in Canada, Gussgard has an additional ten years’ experience working as a dentist for animals, so it was a natural progression to introduce a dog into her practice and study the results. The pooch chosen for the job is a labradoodle called Barley from Skåne in Sweden. In June 2016, Barley and Gussgard graduated from an intensive one-year dog therapy training course that put them in good stead going forward.

The study, which focuses entirely on child patents, consists of a team of paediatric dentists, a psychologist and a pharmacologist. The outcomes of two scenarios—performing treatments with the presence of the therapy dog and without—will be recorded to determine the impact, with the hope of eventually conducting a study with adults.

Each treatment process begins with a meet-and-greet between Barley and all parties, and from there, the patient can decide if Barley should share the chair with him or her or simply stand alongside—alternatively he is able to sit on a trolley table that can be adjusted to the appropriate height and rolled up next to the patient. When taking part in a treatment, Barley wears a therapy jacket and socks to signal that he is working.

According to Gussgard, this changes her “colleague’s” behaviour. In an interview with the Canadian Dental Association, she said: “He actually behaves a bit differently when he gets his gear on. He walks calmly beside me and he doesn’t do anything until he’s allowed to do so—I’m quite proud, he really looks like he’s enjoying his work and I enjoy having him there too.” However, when Barley is not in the dental practice, he is a normal family dog and joins Gussgard and her family on their outings.

Approved for funding by the Regional Committees for Medical and Health Research Ethics, Gussgard and Barley have been working together throughout 2017 and the results of this are to be published at a later date.