Service dog helps put children at ease when visiting the dentist

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — We may not all love going to the dentist, but for some, that trip may feel almost impossible. Some dentists are using man’s best friend to ease human anxiety.

That’s where Kennedy comes in.

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“They are so excited to see her. Dr. Weinberg was just making a joke about how quickly he’s noticed that they’ll say, ‘Hey Dr. Weinberg, where’s Kennedy?” said Kayla Black, who is a dental assistant at Coastal Carolina Pediatric Dentistry.

Kennedy is a service dog training to work at Wilmington’s Coastal Carolina Pediatric Dentistry. Kennedy is there is to guide children through the anxieties or difficulties of going to the dentist.

Her job is also known as animal assisted intervention. Kennedy works right alongside Dental Assistant Kayla Black.



“We had to go through an application. I had to go through training and then I had to go through training with Kennedy,” said Black. “She’s been in our office training multiple times and now she’s here. She’s still in training but she is on another level. so she’s here every day now.”

Black says a visit starts with Kennedy meeting the patient. Kennedy hops right up in the chair with a patient.

Black says Kennedy acts a lot like a weighted blanket. As a child gets a cleaning, Kennedy sits on their lap, letting them pet her to help fight those anxieties.

“Kennedy’s weight pressures the patient, and that kind of just centers the patient,” said Bailey Moore, who works with the service dog training program at UNCW. “When they’re petting her, that will distract them as well. So they can be used in different scenarios like that. but it’s really just a calming mechanism to distract the patient.”

Moore helped train Kennedy. She says animal assisted intervention can also be used in counseling or physical therapy.

“Kennedy will lay on the patient’s lap throughout the cleaning. When the cleaning is over, we ask Kennedy to jump off the chair, and she actually brings them a baggy full of toothbrushes and toothpaste,” said Moore.

The goal is for the child to develop a trusting relationship with Kennedy. Black says Kennedy is already working wonders.

“We had a patient who, like I said, for certain reasons had not been in the chair by herself up until that point, and she loves dogs. She was so excited,” said Black.

Black says they want every child to be able to come to the dentist.

“If they had anxieties or if they had any special needs or disabilities, that they needed some help, our community would have an option that they could come here and have a good time at the dentist, and be able to enjoy it,” said Black.

Black says Kennedy can make that dentist’s chair a safe haven. Black says Kennedy is still in training, but that she has already started working with patients.

She says each patient has the opportunity to work with Kennedy when they come to the dentist.