What you need to know about service dogs at the office

2019 07 09 22 42 0148 Dog Toothbrush 400

A patient shows up at your dental office with a service dog -- what should you do? Robert Wilson Jr., DDS, explored the ethical and legal implications for patients with service animals in a feature published in the August issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association.

"Seemingly, only people with a disability will receive the assistance of a bona fide service animal," Dr. Wilson wrote in the feature (JADA, August 2019, Vol. 150:8, pp. 717-718). "Thus, patients presenting to a dental facility with a service dog should not be denied access to care because they have a service animal."

“Patients presenting to a dental facility with a service dog should not be denied access to care because they have a service animal.”
— Robert Wilson Jr., DDS

Many service dog training programs have rigorous standards and well-trained service dogs will not whine, growl, sniff things, interact with people, or go to the bathroom indoors, Dr. Wilson noted.

"There is little probability of an unpleasant or dangerous situation involving a service dog and another patient or staff member," he wrote.

In addition, there is no evidence that service dogs increase the risk of diseases by their presence in dental offices. Staff can use the same cleaning procedures they use for patients to clean after service dogs, and Dr. Wilson advised promptly removing animal dander.

While fear or allergies are not a reason to deny service to a person assisted by a service dog, a practice can take measures to provide reasonable accommodation when necessary. For instance, patients can be scheduled to minimize encounters between a service dog and patients with allergies or fear.

In addition, if the presence of a dog would compromise the safety of a dental procedure, dentists and staff can arrange for a backup handler to wait with the dog during the procedure. Furthermore, if a dentist cannot provide reasonable care for a patient with a service animal, a referral should be provided to the patient, Dr. Wilson wrote.

It is also important to note that emotional support animals do not count as service animals. Service animals are trained to perform tasks specifically related to a person's disability, such as detecting seizures, guiding the visually impaired, or nudging someone experiencing a panic attack related to post-traumatic stress disorder. Emotional support animals provide general calm and comfort but are not trained to perform specific tasks.

The Americans with Disabilities Act limits what businesses can ask to identify if a dog is a legitimate service animal to two questions:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

In his own practice, Dr. Wilson has worked with patients accompanied by service animals and found the dogs to be well-trained and obedient. He believes dental practices should welcome them and their handlers.

"The service dog and handler teams I have encountered are thoughtful and courteous," he concluded. "They should be welcomed by the public, even in dental offices."

Page 1 of 534
Next Page