November 1, 2016
by Krysten McCumber
A two-year-old is screaming and crying as they’re ushered into a dental office for a simple cleaning. Sound familiar? How about that same child leaving smiling and laughing after their appointment? Maybe that’s not the most common outcome, but it is for Kids’ Dental Group.
At Kids’ Dental Group they have Mango, a four-year-old black Labrador. Mango is a facility dog from National Service Dog and has been with the group for two years. When a nervous child enters the dental chair Mango, wearing her jacket which indicates she’s working, senses their anxiety and comes to the rescue.
“If there is a child crying, [Mango] starts walking towards the operatory and just kind of peeks in. She won’t come in unless you call her, because she’s really trained to follow orders, but if she hears something is off she walks and just kind of looks around,” Dr. Edina Heder said.
“A dental setting can be very intimidating for a little one. This is just an extra thing that makes it more friendly and also home-like,” Dr. Zhemeng Wang, or Dr. Zee, explained. “Depending on how the child is we actually have Mango sit on the chair with them… Sometimes we just have her in the room and they just like the presence of a dog there.”
As the first dental office in Ontario to have a facility dog, there was some adjusting for staff and doctors, but as soon as they took Mango in they felt the stress levels of a busy dental office decrease.
For the young patients, distraction seems to be the key to a stress-free appointment. While patients may have great oral health habits, seeing instruments is a different experience that can be scary for children. Finding something to take their mind off the cleaning has proven to be beneficial for this team. This is known as ‘distraction therapy’ and while it could be done with a number of resources, Mango seems to be quite a successful one.
Dr. Heder ensures there are resources for new parents to learn about Mango and her job at the office. Their website features a post explaining the role Mango plays in their child’s visit, as well as some ground rules (no patting, no feeding, etc.). With posters around the office and an educated team there are rare occasions of patients and their parents requesting Mango to not be present during the visit. If this does happen, she stays in her ‘office’ until the appointment is over.
“Explanation is the most important thing, right? Just clarifying all the details and letting them know it’s completely elective, too,” Dr. Zee said.
When it comes to allergies, the team is cautious but optimistic about the visits. Dr. Zee herself admits to being allergic to dogs, but having lived with Mango for two years now has never experienced an allergic reaction. While admittedly strange, she and her team ensure there is nothing for patients and parents to worry about with Mango sitting in the chair and wandering around the office.
“What we understand from National Service Dog is that as long as children don’t touch Mango there won’t be any issues with allergies. I’m personally allergic to dogs but definitely not to Mango,” Dr. Zee said.
“Cleanliness is one big thing. We always make sure the staff is aware of, like, if there’s any dog hair, we’ll sweep it off right away; we clean the chair right away if Mango’s been on the chair,” Dr. Heder said. “Whether it was Mango or a patient in the chair we follow Universal Precautions – that means you’re wiping down everything.”
As both doctors hope for two more facility dogs to work at all three of their offices in the GTA they encourage other offices to apply to National Service Dog and see the difference a facility dog can make for their team, patients and practice.
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