Skip to main content

Military Health System

Test of Sitewide Banner

This is a test of the sitewide banner capability. In the case of an emergency, site visitors would be able to visit the news page for addition information.

Could a Therapy Dog Help with Your Dental Anxiety?

Image of Air Force Brig. Gen. Goldie, a facility therapy dog at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, helps reduce anxiety in a patient with complex dental conditions that require multiple appointments. The use of therapy dogs is part of an ongoing study with these patients. Air Force Brig. Gen. Goldie, a facility therapy dog at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, helps reduce anxiety in a patient with complex dental conditions that require multiple appointments. The use of therapy dogs is part of an ongoing study with these patients.

Could dogs help improve military dental care?

A first-of-its-kind study at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is researching whether using facility therapy dogs in dentists’ offices could reduce patient anxiety and improve outcomes for military dental treatment programs.

The study focuses on patients requiring complex dental procedures with multiple appointments. Each appointment can be very painful and create a lot of anxiety.

Significant anxiety is relatively common for dental patients and can result in patients declining to show up for treatment, explained John Schmidt, a clinical psychologist at the Naval Postgraduate Dental School located at WRNMMC, and one of the two leads for the study along with Navy Cmdr. Doris Lam. Lam’s dental master’s thesis led to the study.

Before their dental appointment, patients involved in the study are encouraged to meet with a facility dog that provides animal-assisted therapy at WRNMMC. The dogs are highly trained to provide comfort and companionship in a clinical setting.

The hope is that having patients meet with a facility dog can “decrease the amount of pain medication needed, and increase the probability that the person will continue onto their next complex dental appointment,” said Navy Hospital Corpsman Skylor Cervantes. She is one of two leading petty officers for facility dogs at WRNMMC in Bethesda, Maryland; and is participating as a handler for dogs in the dental study.

The goal is to reduce dental problems and enhance oral health and improve dental readiness.

“This is especially problematic in our military population as poor oral health care and missing dental treatments can directly impact mission readiness and deployment status for our war fighters,” Schmidt said.

Facility therapy dogs have been part of WRNMMC patient care since 2005. All of the canines receive initial service dog training for working with veterans. Before being assigned to a medical facility, the dogs also receive additional training and are screened for temperaments that work well in a medical environment.

Reducing Anxiety

The study at the Comprehensive Dentistry Clinic assesses anxiety levels by using self-reported measures of dental anxiety and satisfaction with care, as well as any missed appointments, Schmidt explained.

“All participants also have their heart rate monitored during each study visit to determine if the interactions with the facility dogs results in reduced physiological reactivity during dental procedures,” Schmidt said. This added measure is novel for a study using facility therapy dogs to address dental anxiety.

How the Study Works

In the study, researchers evaluate patients over the course of three visits. One group of patients see the dogs 10 minutes before two of three appointments. Another group of patients does not see a dog until the third appointment.

The patients also fill out questionnaires beforehand. These questionnaires contain three modules assessing dental anxiety, phobia, fear, and feared dental stimuli. This measure also assesses emotional, behavioral, physiological, and cognitive components of the anxiety and fear response, Schmidt explained.

Meanwhile, the dog handler stays outside of the room with the dog. “Once we go in the room, I let the dog do the work,” Cervantes said. “The patient interacts with the dog. They pet them, they can do different tricks with the dog just to get their mind off of what's going on, or what's about to go on.”

Some patients like to interact with the handler to find out about the dog, and other patients like to just focus on the dog itself.

”We try to make the patient as comfortable as possible. And the dogs do a really good job with interacting with the patient and keeping focused on the patient,” Cervantes said.

Anxious Patients

Cervantes explained how having a facility dog at appointments gives patients a more positive attitude and motivates them to continue their multiple treatments.

“It gives the patient something to look forward to, especially when they're introduced to the dog, Then we try to get them in on a day where that same dog can be there again, or they can see another dog if they want,” Cervantes said.

“Because of this interaction, they know the appointment is not going to be as bad.”

Preliminary study results are quite encouraging, Schmidt said.

“The patients love interacting with the dogs and many of the patients have reported reduced dental anxiety, satisfaction with the dog intervention, and have followed through with their dental care.”

The study began in 2016, but was paused during the COVID-19 pandemic. Schmidt and Lam expect the study to be completed next year, and present their findings.

What are USU Facility Dogs?

You also may be interested in...

Article Around MHS
Sep 15, 2023

Health Affairs Secretary Visits San Diego Facilities Discusses Importance of Readiness Quality Health Care

SAN DIEGO (Sept. 14, 2023) Dr. Lester Martinez-Lopez, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, is briefed on Naval Medical Center San Diego's (NMCSD) Bioskills and Simulation Training Center's (BSTC) capabilities by Capt. Cory Gaconnet, BSTC department head. The BSTC offers medical students, nurses, interns, residents and hospital clinical staff the opportunity to train in a virtual patient care environment using simulated patients and sophisticated technology. The center contains overhead cameras that tape the medical team's actions, so leaders can provide feedback after the simulated training. The BSTC plays a key role in maintaining patient safety and ensuring the operational readiness of all hospital staff. The mission of NMCSD is to prepare service members to deploy in support of operational forces, deliver high quality health care services and shape the future of military medicine through education, training and research. NMCSD employs more than 6,000 active-duty military personnel, civilians and contractors in southern California to provide patients with world-class care anytime, anywhere.  (Photo: Marcelo Calero)

The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, Dr. Lester Martinez-Lopez, visited the Defense Health Agency’s San Diego Market from Sept. 13-14, touring research and medical facilities and meeting with staff to discuss the unique challenges facing Southern California’s medical treatment facilities.

Article Around MHS
Aug 28, 2023

Army Reserve-led Mountain Medic Soars to New Heights

U.S. Army Reserve critical care flight paramedics from 5-159th General Support Aviation Battalion, 244th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, Army Reserve Aviation Command, guide U.S, Air Force Reserve medical personnel from the 302nd Airlift Wing in offloading a casualty from a HH-60 MEDEVAC Black Hawk during exercise Mountain Medic at Fort Carson, Colorado, on Aug. 14, 2023. Mountain Medic is an Army Reserve-led joint, multi-component, multi-domain aeromedical evacuation exercise geared at improving and reenforcing medical evacuation operations in a simulated large-scale combat operations environment. (U.S. Army Reserve Photo by Master Sgt. Joy Dulen)

The third iteration of the fast-paced joint operation known as Mountain Medic 2023 was conducted in August 2023. Against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, the exercise aimed at improving and reinforcing medical evacuation operations and skill sets while pushing its medics, pilots, and aircrews nonstop in austere environments set for large-scale ...

Article Around MHS
Aug 23, 2023

MHSRS 2023 Kicks Off with Powerful Message: Medical Readiness for the Future Fight

Team members from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command's Medical Material Development Activity - Broad Spectrum Snakebite Antidote (BSSA) program, receive the Military Health System Research Symposium 2023 Outstanding Research Accomplishment award in team/program management in Kissimmee, Florida on August 14, 2023.  (Photo: Danae Johnson)

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Lester Martinez-López kicked off the 2023 Military Health System Research Symposium with a keynote speech on the morning of August 14, delivering powerful words to the more than 4,000 people attending the event. Weaving his heartfelt sentiments into an overall call for action, Martinez put the ...

Article Around MHS
Aug 18, 2023

Pet Therapy at Keesler: Creating a Paw-sitive Environment

An airman in training from the 81st Training Group plays with a therapy dog at the Levitow Training Support Facility on Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, on July 13, 2023. Volunteer teams of therapy animals and their handlers visit the 81st TRG weekly to help alleviate stress for airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kimberly L. Tou)

Overall, both military men and women are nearly twice as likely to report feeling high levels of stress in their military work (39%) than in their family life (22%), according to the National Library of Medicine. Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi provides multiple resources for airmen and their families who may need physical or psychological ...

Article Around MHS
Aug 17, 2023

Naval Medical Research & Development Researchers Participate in Undersea Operational Research Panel at MHSRS

Panel presenters for the Undersea Operational Research panel at the 2023 Military Health System Research Symposium

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Medical researchers from the Naval Medical Research & Development (NMR&D) enterprise specializing in undersea health met for a panel during the 2023 Military Health System Research Symposium (MHRSR) on Aug.15.

Article Around MHS
Aug 10, 2023

U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity Logisticians, Reserve Soldiers, Army Logistics Support Capstone Hospital Conversion Effort in Northern California’s High Desert

U.S. Army Reserve soldiers from across the 807th Medical Command inventory newly fielded medical equipment inside a storage warehouse at Sierra Army Depot, California, on July 19, 2023. Members of the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency, and soldiers with the 807th MCDS began an inventory of medical supplies this week as part of a capstone field hospital conversion mission for eight Army Reserve medical commands belonging to the 801st Combat Support Hospital. (Photo: T. T. Parish/U.S. Army)

The U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, partnering with the Army Reserve’s 807th Medical Command, reached a milestone in its yearslong efforts to support U.S. Army Reserve medical commands last week, starting the final hospital conversion at the Sierra Army Depot in California.

Article Around MHS
Aug 1, 2023

Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital Celebrates Dog Days of Summer

Piper, an English Bulldog, loves sleeping and cuddling with her human, Carmen Rutledge, a military health assistant with managed care at BJACH.  (Photo: Carmen Rutledge)

“Dogs are like little mood boosters in hospitals,” said U.S. Army Capt. James Walker, hospital chaplain of Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital. He submitted a photo of his dog, Scout, to participate in DHA's Dog Days of Summer campaign, which raises awareness of facility dogs across the MHS. Everyone, including the hospital and dental commander, and ...

Article
Aug 1, 2023

Active Surveillance for Acute Respiratory Disease Detected No Outbreaks at Four U.S. Army Basic Training Installations in 2022

This article presents the 2022 results of the active surveillance program for acute respiratory disease and Group A Beta-Hemolytic Streptococcus conducted by the Defense Centers for Public Health-Aberdeen at the four Army installations responsible for basic combat training or one-station unit training. This ARD surveillance program rapidly monitors, ...

Refine your search
Last Updated: September 06, 2023
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery