May 2019 Volume LIV Number 3


Brushing is Pawsome

January 2017 Volume LII Number 1

By Dr. Gila Dorostkar

No one would ever mistake me for a dog person. I didn’t grow up with dogs and spent very little time with them as an adult. It wasn’t until we made good on a promise to our young son and added a Golden Retriever to our family that I developed a deep love and appreciation for our furry friends. Aspen proved to be so sweet and affectionate with us that I wondered if she might be able to help with some of my young patients at the office. I was inspired by an article in PDT several years ago about pup therapy in a fellow AAPD member’s dental practice.

Both Aspen and I enrolled in a local certified pet therapy training program to get a better sense of her aptitude as a potential therapy dog, and my abilities as a handler. The program concluded with a 17-point evaluation that essentially tested Aspen’s temperament including her reaction to loud noises, behavior around strangers and touch tolerance. She passed with flying colors. As a handler, I learned how to handle exuberant and grabby children, how to maintain control of the leash and how to tell if my dog was feeling reluctant or stressed.

Surprisingly, there was little information available on how to for- mally introduce a dog to a dental practice. Yes, there were numerous anecdotal stories of dentists bringing in their family pets, but none of them addressed the potential risks or liabilities if something didn’t go as planned. I set out to conduct my own research and thought I would share my insights.

I started by reviewing local and federal health codes to ensure that there were no additional risks of infection or contamination. As it turns out, our standard infection control procedures were more than sufficient to eliminate any additional risk.

I next contacted my malpractice insurance carrier who advised a general announcement to our patients that we were introducing a therapy dog in our practice. Since we already regularly send email updates to our patients, this was easy to accomplish. We also added a question on our patient health history form asking about any known allergies or fear of dogs.

The insurance issue required a little more work. Neither my mal- practice nor my business property insurance would cover a therapy dog in the practice. While I knew there was minimal risk, I still felt that there should be some form of insurance in the event of an unforeseen incident. After some additional online searching, I found an animal liability insurance carrier that would provide coverage for potential bites, damage or even someone tripping over Aspen. The insurance policy included a set of conditions that reinforced our therapy training. The most notable requirement is that the dog must always be on a leash and under the control of a handler.

To round out my research, I contacted our state dental association to confirm that I was abreast of any regulations. Again, there did not seem to be any formal policies in place regarding dogs. I also screened our employees to confirm that no one on our staff had any hesitancy or problem with having Aspen on our team.

To get Aspen acclimated to our office, we started by simply having her greet patients in the waiting room upon their arrival. Gradually, we worked her up to going chair side to briefly say "hi" during recall appointments. Aspen is now learning to stay chair side during restor- ative visits. The results have been truly magical. Although she’s too large for a child to hold, she seems to understand that children like it when she lays her head in their lap or next to their body. It’s amazing to watch how a child’s entire demeanor relaxes as they stroke Aspen’s head.

The response from our parents and kids has been incredibly posi- tive. They are very excited to see Aspen and it’s been another wonder- ful way to connect with parents personally as they share their own stories about their pets at home. Aspen has even helped kids who have a fear of dogs in general. And her doggie therapy has proven to be a benefit to everyone in the office, including our staff.

We’re always attentive to Aspen’s needs and are careful to limit her work hours to ensure she doesn’t get stressed. We also make sure to provide a quiet place with a bed and water where she can relax. I think she truly enjoys her job and the response from the children is heart- warming. I am also pleased to have yet another way to help make each child’s visit feel more memorable.

Do I get it now? Absolutely. Having Aspen in the office makes me love my dog even more and truly appreciate the warmth and compassion of all dogs in general.

Please contact Dr. Gila Dorostkar at (415) 448-8120 or e-mail for further information.

Click here for a PDF version of this article.