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Donna, a Service Dog, Quells the Fears of Young Patients in the Department of Pediatric Dentistry

Publication Date: 10/20/2022 10:30 AM

A service dog named Donna recently joined the Department of Pediatric Dentistry in the Ruth Rappaport Children’s Hospital at Rambam Health Care Campus. Donna is helping young patients overcome severe dental anxiety.

Muhammammed meets Donna (left and middle) and relaxes (right) as he is prepared for his dental treatment. Photography: Rambam HCCMuhammammed meets Donna (left and middle) and relaxes (right) as he is prepared for his dental treatment. Photography: Rambam HCC

Five-year-old Muhammad Hamza from a village in Northern Israel suffers from severe anxiety when he has to visit the dentist. For patients like him, general anesthesia is often administered to facilitate dental treatment. Recently, Muhammad met a therapist who changed everything – Donna. Donna is a four-legged, tail-wagging, and loving service dog, and she helps mitigate the fears of patients requiring dental treatments.

Rambam is the first hospital in Israel to successfully incorporate a service

dog into pediatric dentistry, and the results have been amazing.

“Our son was always extremely anxious when he had to go to the dentist, but now, thanks to Donna’s positive influence, Muhammad is cooperative and happily undergoes treatment with this new fury-friend at his side. Three years ago, Muhammad had to be forcibly restrained so that the anesthesia could be administered – it was very traumatic. He was not cooperative, but there was no choice - his dental health needed to be addressed,” Naman Hamza, Muhammad’s father, recalls.

Donna, the four-legged caregiver, was in the waiting room when Muhammad walked in, and since then she has accompanied him every step of the way. “From their first meeting Muhammad was notably, less anxious,” says Dr. Yael Front, Director, Department of Pediatric Dentistry. “Muhammad gave himself over to Donna and went into the treatment room with her. He petted the dog and she responded with love while we prepared him for the anesthesia and dental treatment.”

Donna is part of a pilot project in Rambam’s School of Graduate Dentistry where, for over two decades, special support services – like minimal to deep sedation – are offered to patients with complex medical, mental, and emotional issues. Dr. Ruth Edri, Director of Rambam’s Acute Pain Service, explains, “the idea is to turn a traumatic experience into something that the patient can deal with. The tools at our disposal are very helpful.”

After being treated, the first thing Muhammed asked upon waking was, “Where is Donna?”