Animal Therapy

Dr Boulcott has developed a form of ‘animal therapy' for the use with some children and nervous patients using the power of small furry animals (‘weasels', aka ferrets, pigs or even horses) to encourage relaxation and trust when having treatment. This may sound far-fetched but the results can be quite amazing! More recently we have introduced adult patients to our animals for the same reason: the fact that animals engender relaxation and promote trust.

In fact many of our patients, regardless of age, especially enjoy meeting our pigs and horses which can be generally be viewed at leisure to the rear of the lower car park in Herbrandston. Have one of our dedicated staff show you around before or after your appointment. It all adds to what we hope will be a worthwhile experience to our, rather unique, dental practice.

Ask one of our dedicated staff to show you to the animals.

The following article written by Dr Boulcott for several media sources including Anxious Times magazine and for local newspaper sources. Dr Boulcott has even had a prestigious dental magazine run a large professional article on the technique where it details how animals can positively affect the treatment outcomes for a wide range of patients

A Pig Of A Dental Problem - Dr Mark Boulcott BDS MFGDP (UK)

Herbrandston Dental Health Practice in West Wales is using innovative and interesting techniques to alleviate the anxiety of their patients, and help them to relax at the surgery.

The Practice is well known in the area for it’s care of very anxious patients by many means, including the use of animals to alleviate anxiety, has now added a very large female pot bellied pig to its burgeoning animal collection.

The pig, a rescue animal, wanders freely around the Practice grounds and is a great attraction for patients visiting the practice. Restricted from car parks and clinical areas, the 10 year old animal known as Matilda, is kept to the rear of the building along with a large family of ferrets, four dogs, two large terrapins, rabbits and guinea pigs. The animals provide a unique rural feel to the village practice but serve a far more useful purpose than mere ambiance or decoration.

Dr Boulcott, the Principal Dental Surgeon at the Practice uses the animals to help overcome the fears of very anxious patients, especially children whom the technique particularly benefits. Dr Boulcott explains:

“Patients, particularly children, both boys and girls, often present to this practice with a heightened anxiety towards dental treatment. Many of these fears stem from a previous bad experience at the dentist or doctor and so they view us when they arrive here with deep suspicion. This makes them very difficult to treat as there has been a loss of trust. A vicious cycle of mistrust is then ingrained if the dentist ignores their concerns and attempts to treat without their full understanding and cooperation. Gaining trust within such children is very difficult within a clinical environment. The child expects unpleasant behaviour from the dentist and, sadly, is often is not disappointed. What we do here at Herbrandston is to try to break this cycle by taking the child out of the surgery and showing them that dentists can be nice people: can be friendly and can relate to them and their problems. How do we do this? Well we take them out and show them some of our animals.”

It has been psychologically demonstrated that certain palliative procedures such as warming of the skin prior to surgery can significantly relieve anxiety. Dr Boulcott believes that similar interactions occur when a subject strokes an animal. Further, he believes that by showing a child (or certain adults) an unusual or gentle animal; stroking a ferret, touching a pig, stroking a sausage dog, patting the strong neck of a docile horse, not only helps calm anxieties but it gains confidences. By doing this with the clinician, trust quickly develops as the child relates the dentist with fun things, not bad. As a result, their first visit to the dentist passes as a fun event and they are far more willing to return. Trust is formed and treatment can slowly proceed at a pace that best suits that patient.

“It is a technique I came across by accident when showing curious children my ferrets” Dr Boulcott explains. “Most children are fascinated by animals and to touch them with an adult engenders friendship and trust. Once trust has been re-established, treatment can proceed and we always have a mutual topic of conversation at next appointments. It may not work with every anxious child, but it always a good starting point. For those it does help, such trust engendering, relaxation techniques are far better for the patient than drugs or even general anaesthetic.

Trust in one’s clinician empowers the patient. "I have had many cases where previously very anxious, even phobic, patients have slowly come around not only to accept treatment but to go on to accept surgical solutions carried out simply under local anaesthetic. Provided such trust is always reinforced, you have a willing patient who will accept the need for their treatment. Our animals simply help engender this trust and are remarkably successful in doing so.

As far as I am aware, I am probably one of the very few dentists within the UK who uses such techniques and both patients and I greatly enjoy the experience.”

Matilda the pig is just the latest addition to Dr Boulcott’s menagerie. Her friendly personality coupled with the unusual and unexpected nature of the experience of meeting her simply acts to refocus the attention of the otherwise anxious patient. This refocusing acts to quell the “fight or flight” response, limits catecholamine release and elicits positive responses within the hypothalamus. An old technique given a new twist in these hurried, technologically driven times.

Page last updated: 25 Jun 2019  10:00AM