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5 Things to Consider Before Adding A Therapy Animal to the Dental Team

Below are 5 things to consider when adding a therapy animal to the dental team.

Adding a therapy animal to the dental team may be beneficial to practices serving pediatric or adult patients with dental anxiety. Offices can bring a therapy pet into the office a few days a week, or only on days when high-anxiety patients are scheduled. Below are 5 things to consider when adding a therapy animal to the dental team.

1. BENEFITS

Studies show that therapy dogs reduce children’s fear and anxiety during dental appointments. These animals can serve as a distraction or provide comfort for children and adults with a dental phobia.

2. TRAINING

Comfort and therapy animals must be well-trained in obedience and screened for their ability to interact favorably with humans and other animals, according to the National Service Animal Registry. A member of the therapy animal team should serve as the dog or cat’s handler, and remain present with the animal at all times. Training courses are also available for pets to become certified as therapy animals.

3. INFECTION CONTROL

Every dental practice must adhere to infection control guidelines established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines.

4. RULES TO KNOW

Clear distinctions exist between a therapy pet and a service animal in that the latter has federally protected rights. Some states have laws that provide rights and protections for the therapy animal’s handler, as well. Therapy dogs are not considered American with Disabilities Act Service Animals and are not recognized under federal law.

5. NEW TEAM MEMBER

Therapy animals must be good tempered, socialized, and enjoy comforting people. Clinicians should introduce patients to the therapy animal, and ask if they would like the animal present in the operatory. Patients should also be notified of the animal’s presence in case of allergies.

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