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Father-daughter dental team bring in therapy dog

A La Jolla father-daughter dentist team came up with a new idea for making patients feel at ease: A therapy dog.

As far as they know, Drs. John and Tracy Taddey of La Jolla Family and Cosmetic Dentistry, are the first in the area to have a dental therapy dog.

Tracy Taddey said she always had a soft spot for animals and fell in love with a small mixed breed Chihuahua-dachshund at the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe. She brought the little dog to the office and watched patients’ reactions.

“She made people feel more relaxed,” Tracy said. “She just curls up into a little doughnut and falls asleep. You’d think the sound of the drill would scare her, but it doesn’t.”

Tracy has been bringing the dog to work every day for the past few months, and now patients expect to see her.

“If they don’t see her, they’ll ask where she is,” Tracy said. The little butterscotch-colored dog is usually either asleep on a patient’s lap or greeting people in the front. “She doesn’t bark in the office,” Tracy said. “She’s mellow and loving.”

Tracy named the shelter dog Mona Lisa thinking of the intriguing smile in DaVinci’s famous painting. It’s a fitting name for a therapy dog in a dentist’s office where a lot of attention is on people’s smiles.

Already in only a few months there, Mona Lisa has proved herself therapeutic to adults and children. Taddey recalled a 10-year old patient who was very nervous about having two teeth removed. But after petting the little dog, the girl calmed down.

“Dentistry is always changing, and having a therapy dog in the office is the newest wrinkle,” said Dr. John Taddey, who opened La Jolla family and Cosmetic Dentistry in 1974.

The practice is still at the same location at 7946 Ivanhoe Avenue after more than 35 years. “It’s kind of like home to us,” said Tracy, who grew up in La Jolla and joined her father in his practice.

“Our goal was always to practice together,” John said. “She teaches me things, and I teach her.”

Tracy added, “We’ve always been close and he’s been my mentor.”

Following in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, Tracy studied dentistry. But her decision to become a dentist came after she worked as beauty and fashion editor at Elle magazine in New York. She interviewed doctors for health and beauty articles, but found her real calling in dentistry. “I was miserable there — I wanted to make an impact and help people improve their health and self-esteem in a hands-on way, not just write about it,” Tracy said.

“Being at Elle, helped her do what she does now,” said her father. Tracy brings her creative thinking to the practice. “It was her idea to have a therapy dog at the office,” John said.

Tracy joined her father in his La Jolla practice after graduating in 1998 from the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry in San Francisco. She also opened her own practice in 2001 in Clairemont and has volunteered with other dentists to give educational talks about oral hygiene at local schools.

Tracy’s sister Kristin Taddey works at the La Jolla dental office as an oral hygienist.

Dentistry has been in the family since Tracy’s grandfather became a dentist in New York in the early 1930s after immigrating to the United States from Italy. John worked with his father in his dental practice in New York for five years after graduating in 1968 from New York University, where both his father and later his daughter attended. John taught post-graduate dentistry at Montefiore Hospital in Bronx, New York before moving to La Jolla in 1974.

John was inspired by his father to pursue dentistry.

“I saw what my Dad was able to do to help people,” John said.

In the 1990s, John served as chairman of the dental section of Scripps Memorial Hospital and was chairman of the TMJ and Facial Pain Conference for 15 years at Scripps. He lectured on dental topics and is the author of a self-help book, “TMJ: The Self Help Program.” John was named a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry.

“Things are constantly changing in the dental field — that keeps it exciting,” John said.

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La Jolla Family and Cosmetic Dentistry