There's nothing particularly pleasant about a teeth cleaning, but one dental hygienist just outside St. John's is trying to make the experience a little more enjoyable — with the help of a four-legged friend.

Unlike a dentist, Nicole Kielly doesn't drill or fill; she scrapes and pokes. But that's enough to make some clients squirm and others to stay away altogether.

'She's a very special dog ... Ellie was just a natural.' - Nicole Kielly

"Some people delay treatment on account of being nervous," said Kielly.

"It tends to kind of build up on them, then they get overwhelmed. They're embarrassed, so in helping people overcome barriers, one of the things I do is help manage anxiety to make it easier for them to come in."

Nicole Kielly, Dental hygienist

Nicole Kielly says some clients delay treatment because of nervousness. (John Pike/CBC News)

Meet Ellie, a miniature schnauzer with a wizard-like beard. She's Kielly's stress-buster and secret weapon, serving as an unofficial therapy dog for the Dental Hygiene Studio, her Logy Bay business, 

When clients come in for an appointment, Ellie is at the door to greet them. Her gentle, quiet, and calm nature soothes the nerves of clients, according to Kielly.

Tammy White

Client Tammy White says Ellie has 'a warmth and calmness about her.' (Jon Pike/CBC News)

'It's lovely'

For Tammy White, Ellie is the highlight of her visit.
"I get down and pet her," she said. "She hops right up [on the chair with me] and we stay here for as long as it takes. It's lovely."

Ellie gets cozy in White's lap as Kielly gets to work checking and cleaning her teeth.

Nicole Kielly

'It's like a hug while getting your teeth cleaned,' says Kielly. (Jon Pike/CBC News)

"I'm not an overly nervous person, but having Ellie in your lap is a whole different experience," said White.

"She just has a warmth and a calmness about her and it just makes you feel like you're at home … It takes you away from what's actually happening, to a nice calm place." 

Kielly has other ways to keep her clients calm. Her office has a spa-like atmosphere with citrus-scented aromatherapy, a Himalayan salt lamp, and gentle lighting. She also puts a heated wrap on her client's shoulders to help relax their neck muscles and offers vegan-friendly tooth polish.

But Ellie is the star attraction.

"It's like a hug while getting your teeth cleaned," Kielly said.

"She's a very special dog, very sweet and nurturing and caring. Ellie was just a natural."


Kielly says Ellie seems to enjoy her new role of cuddling with clients all day. (Jon Pike/CBC News)

Ellie's journey

When Ellie was two years old, she went completely blind. She had advanced juvenile cataracts and spent a year in the dark until surgery restored her vision.

It was then Kielly got the idea of bringing Ellie to work with her. Ellie needed 24-hour care after the surgery, and Kielly contacted her clients to see if anyone would mind the dog being in the office. 

"I had six phone calls within a couple of hours of posting the picture [on social media] from people who had dental anxiety and wanted to come in," she said.

Now all of Kielly's clients have the option of a snuggle with Ellie.

"I really want to help people feel good about looking after themselves," said Kielly. "I try to make a positive environment so my clients are encouraged to embrace their oral health for better overall health."