Canine guidance: introducing pet therapy

Last month, Forfar Dental incorporated trained therapy dogs into the practice to enhance patient experience and reduce dental anxiety

01 July, 2024 / indepth
 Corrie Crompton  

With the UK Government’s Adult Oral Health Survey, published in January this year, showing that as many as 54 per cent of adults experience moderate-to-severe dental anxiety, fear of the dentist and treatment avoidance is something we all encounter daily as dental professionals.

Dr Audrey Kershaw, of Oral Surgery Scotland, alongside Dr Victoria Lawson at Forfar Dental Care, wanted to make the case for expanding the management of these dentally anxious patients beyond just prescription pads and cannulas.

“A visit to the dentist for many people is still dominated by memories of school dentists, gas masks and childhood extractions,” said Dr Kershaw. “It has been my goal for many years now to highlight just how much we can help our patients overcome these experiences with empathy, patience, and good non-verbal communication… and nothing embodies those qualities more than our canine friends!”

Jutino’s company really helped me to relax and made my appointment so much easier for me

Ailidh, a patient at Forfar Dental Care

Understanding Therapets’ role in dental settings

A chocolate brown poodle sitting.

Therapets are service animals that are specially trained to bring comfort and relief to various therapeutic settings. According to the Canine Concern Scotland Trust, the organisation behind Therapets, interaction with these animals has a proven soothing effect. These therapy dogs must meet strict criteria for temperament and get put through their paces to evaluate their suitability before being approved for work.

Last month, Forfar Dental Care welcomed two Therapet-certified standard poodles, Jutino and Rollo, for their first day as part of the team. At ages four and two respectively, their gentle demeanours were a perfect fit in the dental environment. The pair were accompanied by their registered handler, Benjamin, who ensured the dogs’ welfare was maintained and that they remained unobtrusive throughout.

Poodles are naturally hypoallergenic making them ideal for a healthcare setting where allergies can be a concern, and patients explicitly opt in to their presence before they are introduced.

Forfar Dental Care

Founded in 2022 by Dr Lawson and her husband, Ian Lyburn, and led by Practice Manager Angela Robbie, Forfar Dental Care has rapidly grown from its beginnings in a former bank building to a comprehensive general dental and referral practice. Providing a range of services from family dentistry to advanced restorative work, specialist orthodontics and oral surgery, the practice is dedicated to expanding its offerings, embracing new ideas and taking a forward-thinking approach to high-street dentistry.

With a focus on creating a calming atmosphere in the practice, the introduction of Jutino and Rollo has not only been a hit with patients, but also with the staff. Angela said: “When he wasn’t busy working, Jutino made a very welcome office mate for the day! It was lovely to see the rest of the team popping up in between appointments to say hello… his presence definitely helped to spread a nice feeling throughout the practice.”

Enhancing patient comfort through scheduled Therapet sessions

A blonde dog looks up to the left.

Recognising the positive impact of Jutino and Rollo, Forfar Dental Care has begun organising regularly scheduled Therapet sessions, which will take place several times a year.

As part of this initiative, aimed in particular at promoting dental attendance among anxious patients, children, and those with additional sensory or emotional needs, patients will be invited to book their appointments when they know a Therapet will be present.

It is hoped that the added emotional support will help these patients to feel at ease throughout their dental visit, and eventually, that their experience of dental care can move away from feelings of apprehension or worry.

A patient’s perspective Ailidh, a patient at Forfar Dental Care, discussed her positive experience with the Therapet service. “I really felt it was such a good idea,” she said, “Jutino’s company really helped me to relax and made my appointment so much easier for me. I cannot thank Audrey and the staff at Forfar Dental Care enough.”

Looking forward

As Forfar Dental Care continues to grow, the introduction of the Therapet service to the practice represents their commitment to patient comfort and holistic care that moves far beyond placing fillings and scaling teeth. It is hoped that the Therapets will integrate well with the inhalation sedation service scheduled to launch later this year and will also give a unique selling point for prospective vocational trainees (VTs) as Dr Lawson looks to join the list of VT trainers recruiting for 2025/6.

Incorporating Therapets into dental practices is more than a novelty; it’s an effective tactic for non-pharmacological anxiety management which recognises the wellbeing benefits that these wonderful animals can bring. Forfar Dental Care is leading the way, showing how innovative practices can make a significant difference to the everyday patient experience.

Oral Surgery Scotland accepts referrals for anxious patients at Forfar Dental Care and nationwide at

Tags: anxiety / anxious / care / Dogs / Patient / Pets / Therapy

Categories: Feature / Magazine

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scottish Dental magazine