A caring dog is helping anxious dental patients get over their fears by providing therapy during their trip to the dentist.
Basil the beagle, who has his own uniform, provides pet therapy on a one-to-one basis for people suffering from anxiety.
He meets the patient in the waiting room and then accompanies them for their treatment in the chair, providing comfort, companionship and a distraction.
The six-year-old dog is a full-time employee for Community Dentists Services (CDS) in Suffolk and is the first pooch to set out on pet therapy in the area.
The CDS, which operates eight clinics across Suffolk, is starting a pilot of the pet therapy programme in selected locations, identifying patients who may benefit from being accompanied by Basil.
Pet therapy animals are trained to provide affection and comfort to people in a variety of settings.
They help calm patients and may reduce anxiety in children and adults suffering from dental phobias.
CDS senior dental nurse, Jacci Plant, who is Basil’s owner, had the idea to train as a pet therapy practitioner:
She said: “Pet therapy is something I have always been interested in and I knew Basil has the ideal temperament to make a fantastic therapy dog because of his wonderful calm nature around people and his friendly personality.
“I also knew that pet therapy worked well in other clinical settings or where people have additional needs such as mental health issues or learning disabilities.
“CDS supported me to source and follow a suitable course and 18 months later I am a qualified Animal Assisted Practitioner.
“We are now working to identify patients where pet therapy may help them with their treatment and offer it to them as an option.”
Amy Schiller, operations director for CDS, said: “We provide special care and paediatric dentistry and many of our patients, adults and children, have additional needs or severe dental anxiety and may require extensive treatment.
“Reducing anxiety is very important and Basil will be one technique we can use to help patients relax and feel more comfortable about having treatment.
“Overall this is important, because with some patients it may make all the difference between being able to tolerate treatment without more invasive means such as sedation.”
CDS is an employee-owned social enterprise and provides special care and paediatric dentistry for the NHS across much of central and eastern England.
Around 70 per cent of patients have additional needs and may experience significant anxiety at the prospect of dental examinations and treatment.