Calif. dentist's secret weapon for anxious patients: Her dog

By Donna Domino, features editor

September 13, 2011 -- If dog is man's best friend, it's especially true when he's in a dentist chair. For many patients who see Lori Doran-Garcia, DDS, a general practitioner in Palo Alto, CA, the first thing they want before treatment starts is to have her pet pug, Buster, nestled in their laps.

"He really is what got me in here; the minute I heard about Buster, I came," said patient Patricia Urbano as she stroked the portly canine snoozing in her lap. "I have really bad anxiety and didn't go to the dentist for a couple of years because I had a bad experience. He really calms me -- the love and the warmth in my lap."

Patient Patricia Urbano with Buster
"He really calms me -- the love and the warmth in my lap," patient Patricia Urbano said.

Dr. Doran-Garcia began bringing Buster to her Palo Alto office four years ago to crate train him. "But all my patients kept asking to hold him as a puppy," she recalled. "It was totally serendipitous."

Buster was soon a hit with patients, and he learned to become perfectly still. In fact, the 25-pound canine seems to see comforting patients as his duty.

Adults as well as kids ask for him, Dr. Doran-Garcia noted, and many that used to need nitrous oxide to calm them now request Buster instead.

"Drilling doesn't bother him," Dr. Doran-Garcia said. In fact, he often snores because the sound puts him to sleep.

“There are a million dentists, but there's only one Buster.”
— Lori Doran-Garcia, DDS

"There are some kids I'd never be able to drill without Buster," she said, noting that when one young patient started crying, Buster fetched a favorite bone and offered it to the girl as if to say, "It's gonna be OK."

And when Dr. Doran-Garcia was finished working on Urbano, Buster dutifully jumped down and into the next patient's lap, all part of a dog day's work.

When scheduling appointments, patients are asked if they want "with," meaning if they prefer the pug's assistance. Now about 80% of her patients ask for Buster during their appointments, said Dr. Doran-Garcia, who has been practicing for 20 years.

Buster has helped many patients overcome their dental anxiety
Buster has helped many patients overcome their dental anxiety.

She is quick to point out that she researched laws, health codes, and regulations to ensure that it was safe and legal to have Buster in her office.

"I never push him on anybody," Dr. Doran-Garcia noted. "I'm really careful about allergies." He stays in the back office unless he's requested because she doesn't want people to think he's wandering around the office.

One patient left when she heard Buster bark, but on the whole, response to him has been overwhelmingly positive, she said.

Buster even has his own Facebook page, "Bay Area Buster," which shows him looking up from the laps of his many fans.

The only drawback is getting Buster's hair on patients' clothes, but many patients plan ahead and don't wear dark clothes. And Dr. Doran-Garcia thoughtfully provides rolling tape lint cleaners to get rid of the dog hair.

Buster has definitely been a boon for her practice, according to Dr. Doran-Garcia. "I'm getting patients who only come because of him," she laughed. "There are a million dentists, but there's only one Buster."

Copyright © 2011

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