Therapy Dog Support in Pediatric Dentistry: A Social Welfare Intervention for Reducing Anticipatory Anxiety and Situational Fear in Children



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Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal


Anticipatory Anxiety -- Prevention and Control, Pet Therapy, Psychosocial support, Pediatric Dentistry, Dental Anxiety -- Prevention and Control


Children often experience anticipatory anxiety and situational fear (AA&SF) as a common reaction to perceived environmental threats. Animal-assisted interventions (AAI) with certified therapy dogs have been increasing in commonality within social work and medical practice as a non-pharmaceutical intervention to increase relaxation. This pilot study explored the impact of certified therapy dogs on youth in a known AA&SF triggering experience – the dental office. Canine Support in Pediatric Dentistry was designed and evaluated as an innovative, non-pharmacological behavior management strategy to support children, ages 8–12, with known AA&SF of the dentist. A time-series design utilized a convenience sample (n = 18) for current patients with known AA&SF. Measures of survey, observation, and salivary analyte analysis assessed biopsychosocial changes, including a refined methodology for oxytocin. The intervention as deemed acceptability by guardians at a rate of 83%. Guardians further supported the intervention with 100% stating that the liked the therapy dog’s presence for their child. No safety issues were observed. Oxytocin trended positively from baseline across majority of sample; though not statistically significant. Cortisol tended to decreased over the three time points, while alpha-amylase appeared to follow the trend of oxytocin more than cortisol. The findings support that Canine Support in Pediatric Dentistry is a feasible AAI in the pediatric dental clinic, which provides a model generalizable to other medical environments and experiences that may provoke AA&SF in children. Collection and measurement of salivary analysis is a feasible and practical method to explore biopsychosocial change in social welfare research.

Original Published Citation

Vincent, A., Heima, M., & Farkas, K. J. (2020). Therapy dog support in pediatric dentistry: A social welfare intervention for reducing anticipatory anxiety and situational fear in children. Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal, 37(6), 615–629.

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