Sometimes serendipity has a wagging tail.
When Lexi Dunnells looked to build a project for the School of Dental Medicine’s Research Day, she knew she wanted to study how to reduce barriers to care in the dental clinic.
“I was a teacher for five years and never knew that the number one reason why kids miss school is dental pain – it's shocking,” said Dunnells, a dual 2024 DDS and MPH candidate in the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine and Colorado School of Public Health. “So for me, combining the individual patient level nature of dentistry with the larger context of public health – remembering the ‘why’ of what I'm doing – was an exciting prospect.”
Enter Ziggy, a black German shepherd.
“My mom is a retired speech pathologist and, in her retirement, she has taken to dog training,” Dunnells said. “She trained Ziggy to be a certified therapy dog.” And then the idea struck: Why not focus her project on whether therapy dogs could ease dental anxiety and increase access to care?
Ziggy flew in from Arizona, joining forces with Dunnells on the research study to monitor stress and anxiety indicators in the student dental clinic for 20 military veteran patients.
Unsurprisingly, Ziggy was a pro.
“For the patients who had Ziggy present during their appointment, he was there the entire time, sitting right next to them,” Dunnells said. “Just naturally, all the patients sat with their hand on Ziggy’s head, which was really sweet.”
Below, Dunnells details the results of her research, what surprised her in the study and where therapy dogs in dental settings can go from here.