Easing dental anxiety with a furry muzzle

Dogs help patients relax

By Jessica Corey-Butler on March 11, 2016

Speaking from the relative comfort of a dentist's chair, paper bib hanging around his neck covering the top part of his airman battle uniform, Senior Master Sgt. Adam Harrison shares a sentiment many of us would agree with.

"I hate going to the dentist."

The Olympic Dental and Denture Center, he added, is "the best dentist I've probably ever been to," and shakes his head a little. But, he said, "I still don't like to go."

As Harrison and his hygienist begin their consultation, a tiny visitor comes into his room. Bets is a nine-pound, eight-month-old toy fox terrier. The dog is placed on Harrison's lap, and immediately Harrison's demeanor changes from mildly uncomfortable dental patient to charmed grown-up boy with a puppy in his lap.  Bets stays on his lap several minutes and then is returned to Rick Johnson, the clinic's denturist and owner of both the clinic and the pup.

According to office manager Dana Larsen, Olympic Dental Center is a full-service dental and denture clinic.  Half of the practice is dedicated to dentures, including full, immediate, implant and partial dentures; exams;  and maintenance that includes relines, rebase, repairs and soft liners of existing dentures.

The dental side of the practice includes all standard prevention, maintenance, and treatment options to include non-surgical root canal as well as cosmetic dentistry like bonding, veneers, whitening, and inlays or onlays.

Where Olympic Dental and Denture Center sets itself apart from other practices is in its chairside manner, and it caters to individuals with dental anxiety.  Dentists Debbie Roeh and Kimberly Winton have been lauded for their soothing demeanors; Roeh also is certified in conscious sedation,  and both use nitrous oxide when appropriate.  

Even before these interventions are applied, there's the friendly staff and occasional visits from Bets.

Bets is not a trained service dog, though she can provide immediate relief for anxious patients. Mostly, Bets is there as a "distraction for people thinking ‘someone's going to be probing around in my mouth,'" Larsen said.

Bets has been coming to the clinic with Johnson and his other dog, a miniature pinscher named Tony, since she was an 11-week-old puppy.  As a breed, pinschers are known for bonding with one human, whereas toy fox terriers are more outgoing, friendly and mellow.

As a young puppy, Bets came to work with Johnson, and she would meet patients who were friends and family of clinic staff. Eventually, she was introduced to more patients who seemed anxious about their dental visits.  She's available to patients "most of the time," based on her mood and presence in the practice.  In her spare time, Bets enjoys naps and road trips with her humans; the latter happen frequently when she travels to dog shows under the name Ultra Quest Beautiful Stranger.  

As for Bets' role in Harrison's recent dental experience, he still does not love dental visits.  But, he allows that having a dog on his lap "does take your mind off of it - relaxes you."

Olympic Dental and Denture Clinic, 6111 100th St. SW, Lakewood, 253.752.1320, olydental.com