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Dogs at the Dentist: How an unlikely partnership is helping treat dental anxiety

By: PRLog

WILMINGTON, N.C. - Dec. 1, 2023 - PRLog -- Many people, studies show over 30%, experience dental anxiety or fear, which can prevent them from seeking the dental care they need or cause them to feel stressed and uncomfortable during their appointments. Dental fear can have various causes, such as previous traumatic experiences, fearing pain or needles, embarrassment, or lack of control. Dental anxiety or fear can have negative consequences for oral health and overall wellbeing, such as increased risk of tooth decay, gum disease, tooth loss, bad breath, and reduced quality of life¹. Bad oral health can have serious consequences for systemic health, as oral and systemic diseases share many common risk factors and inflammatory pathways. Poor oral hygiene, dental caries, and periodontal disease can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory infections, adverse pregnancy outcomes, osteoporosis, and kidney disease. Therefore, maintaining good oral health is essential for preventing and managing systemic diseases.

Fortunately, there are ways to cope with dental anxiety or fear and make dental visits more pleasant and relaxing. One of the most effective and innovative ways is animal assisted therapy (AAT), which involves interacting with specially trained animals, such as dogs, to provide emotional and physical support. AAT has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, blood pressure, heart rate, and pain, as well as increase happiness, comfort, and trust.

Thrive Family Dental is a dental practice in Wilmington, NC that offers honest, patient-centered dental care and uses AAT to help patients with dental anxiety or fear. The practice is led by Dr. Benjamin Friberg, DDS, who specializes in general dentistry and uses the most conservative treatment possible to help patients maintain their smile and achieve long lasting results. Thrive Family Dental is also an Official Training Venue for paws4people®, a nonprofit organization that trains and places assistance dogs with children, veterans, and civilians with disabilities⁴. Thrive Family Dental works with the UNCW paws4people classes and has monthly puppy visits to introduce patients to the benefits of AAT and to support the training of future assistance dogs.

Thrive Family Dental is a dental practice that strives to provide the best dental care possible for its patients. The practice offers a range of services, such as preventive, restorative, cosmetic, and emergency dentistry, as well as Invisalign, dental implants, and sedation dentistry. Thrive Family Dental uses state-of-the-art technology and modern amenities to ensure that patients receive efficient, accurate, and comfortable dentistry. Patients can enjoy coffee or tea from the beverage station, catch up on their favorite Netflix shows with TVs in every operatory, and stay entertained at the iPad bar.

However, what sets Thrive Family Dental apart from other dental practices is its use of AAT to help patients with dental anxiety or fear. Thrive Family Dental has a rehabilitative facility dog named MEADOW, who is specially trained by paws4people® to sit calmly in the laps of patients while they get the dental treatment they need. MEADOW provides deep pressure therapy to lower anxiety levels and induce feelings of safety. MEADOW has over 300 hours of training that make her a great addition to the team at Thrive Family Dental.

MEADOW is not the only dog that patients can meet at Thrive Family Dental. The practice is also an Official Training Venue for paws4people®, which means that it hosts puppies that are in training to become assistance dogs. These puppies are brought to the practice by UNCW students and volunteers who are enrolled in the paws4people Assistance Dog Training Program (ADTP), a first-of-its-kind, university-based, certificate program that teaches students how to train and integrate assistance dogs into clinical and educational practice. Thrive Family Dental works with the UNCW paws4people classes and has monthly puppy visits to expose patients to the benefits of AAT and to support the training of future assistance dogs.

paws4people® is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1999 by Kyria Henry Whisenhunt, when she was just 12 years old, with the purpose of using dogs as a means of helping people. paws4people®'s mission is to educate and empower people to utilize assistance dogs to transform their lives⁶. Since its founding, paws4people® has placed over 850 highly trained assistance dogs providing support in areas such as mobility and psychiatric service, educational and rehabilitative assistance, and social therapy. Together, these dogs have made more than 1,000,000 therapeutic contacts.

paws4people® specializes in training customized service dogs for two general groups: children and adolescents with physical, neurological, psychiatric, or emotional disabilities; and veterans and service members with chronic/complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and military sexual trauma (MST)/sexual trauma (ST). paws4people® also trains and places facility dogs with a specific individual who will use the facility dog within his/her profession and/or volunteer activities to provide educational instruction or therapeutic interventions, medical or environmental aid, methodologies to students with "special needs," or support to individuals with a physical, neurological, psychiatric, or other medical related disability or disabilities.

paws4people® has a unique and rigorous training process that starts from birth and lasts for about two years. The training process involves neurological stimulation, sensory experiences, obedience skills, specialized tasks, and public access tests. The training process also involves a "bump," which is when the dogs choose their partners from a group of potential clients. paws4people® believes that the dogs know best who they can help the most, and that the bond between the dog and the client is the key to a successful partnership.

Thrive Family Dental and paws4people® have a strong and mutually beneficial partnership that enhances their respective goals and values. For every new patient at Thrive Family Dental they help purchase training equipment for the paws4people puppy development center. Thrive Family Dental supports paws4people® by hosting its puppies in training, by donating a portion of its proceeds to the organization, and by promoting its programs and events. paws4people® supports Thrive Family Dental by providing MEADOW as a rehabilitative facility dog, by training and certifying the staff as handlers, and by offering AAT to the patients.

The partnership between Thrive Family Dental and paws4people® is a win-win situation for both parties, as well as for the patients, the students, and the community. The patients benefit from AAT by having a more positive and enjoyable dental experience, by reducing their anxiety and fear, and by improving their oral health and wellbeing. The students benefit from the partnership by having an opportunity to practice their skills and knowledge in a real-world setting, by gaining valuable experience and feedback, and by making a difference in people's lives. The community benefits from the partnership by having access to quality dental care and AAT, by learning more about the roles and benefits of assistance dogs, and by supporting a local business and a nonprofit organization.

Testimonials from Patients and Staff

The partnership between Thrive Family Dental and paws4people® has received positive feedback and testimonials from patients and staff who have witnessed and experienced the benefits of AAT. Here are some examples of the testimonials:

- "I have always been terrified of the dentist, but MEADOW made me feel so calm and relaxed. She snuggled with me while I got my teeth cleaned and I barely noticed anything. She is such a sweet and gentle dog. I am so grateful to Thrive Family Dental and paws4people® for this amazing service." - Patient

- "I love working with MEADOW and the paws4people® puppies. They bring so much joy and happiness to our practice. They also help our patients feel more comfortable and confident. I have seen patients who used to avoid the dentist or cancel their appointments become regular and loyal customers because of the dogs. It is truly rewarding to see the difference they make." - Staff

- "I was very impressed by the professionalism and dedication of the UNCW students who brought the paws4people® puppies to Thrive Family Dental. They were very knowledgeable and passionate about their work. They explained to me how the puppies are trained and what they can do for people with disabilities. They also let me interact with the puppies and they were so adorable and well-behaved. I think it is a great program!" - Patient

- "MEADOW is not just a dog, she is a part of our team and our family. She has a special bond with each of us and with our patients. She knows exactly what to do and how to help. She is always ready to work and to play. She is the best thing that ever happened to Thrive Family Dental and we are so thankful to paws4people® for giving us this opportunity."

Thrive Family Dental and paws4people® are examples of how animals can enhance human health and happiness. They offer a holistic and compassionate approach to dentistry that benefits everyone involved. They are a family that thrives together

Ben Friberg

Photos: (Click photo to enlarge)

61146a3ff9a74f698cea9aec 3 Dr Friberg And Meadow Friberg And Pt Friberg Meadow Pt

Source: Thrive Family Dental

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