Among the things kids hate most, visiting the dentist ranks near the top. Unless they're going to Pediatric Dentistry of Northbrook, Illinois.
That practice, which includes doctors Thomas Resnick and Paul Egger, has found a way to help young patients relax and — dare we say it — even enjoy teeth cleanings. Their secret: a 6-year-old golden retriever named JoJo.
As a trained comfort dog, JoJo calms patients in the hot seat. She sits on their laps, tenderly rests her face on their bodies, and patiently distracts them from anything unpleasant happening in their mouths.
JoJo’s first foray into dentistry came after her handler, Lynne Ryan, came up with the idea of using a comfort dog to help young patients through stressful procedures. “Working at a pediatric practice can have its challenges,” says Ryan, who has also served as a dental assistant at the practice for over two decades.
“Children are sometimes fearful of new things, and going to the dentist can be one of them," he adds. "Our job is to make the patient feel as comfortable as possible, and JoJo is here to help with that.”
Take 4-year-old Sophia: Previous dental visits were so traumatic that staff told her mother the only way to get her teeth cleaned would be under general anesthesia. Not anymore. One visit with JoJo and it seemed like her qualms vanished.
But kids aren't the only beneficiaries of JoJo’s calm demeanor. “It’s not always the patient that’s stressed out,” Ryan explains. “It’s stressful on parents too. One mom just sat back and melted with this dog in her arms while the doctor and assistant took care of her child. JoJo has a real sixth sense of who needs her, so we’ll walk into a room and sometimes she’ll [make a] beeline to somebody else.”
JoJo also helps appointments go smoother and quicker. “JoJo is a distraction tool so the patients don’t focus in as much on the dentistry,” says Ryan, who acquainted the dog with the sounds of the office while also exposing her to wheelchairs, walkers and whatever else she might encounter on the job.
For now, JoJo comes in once a month and is available by appointment only. When she’s not at the dentist, she's a comfort companion at schools, nursing homes, and residential facilities for adults with disabilities. She has even responded to the 2012 school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri, and Washington, Illinois.
But JoJo's real future is in dental care, at least as far as the young patients of Pediatric Dentistry are concerned. “They ask,‘Is JoJo my new dentist now?’” Ryan says.