A ‘DENTIST with a difference’ in Herbrandston is celebrating ten years of helping nervous patients overcome their fears, with help from some furry friends.

Dr Mark Boulcott started his private practice in the grounds of the Old Rectory while still serving as a dental surgeon with the Army at Brawdy.

Relishing the challenge that ‘difficult or different’ cases provide, Mark – as he insists all his patients call him – decided there must be a way of helping people overcome their fear of visiting the dentist.

In his mission to combat ‘white coat syndrome’, Mark has amassed a colourful collection of animals that he uses to put patients at ease.

“It came about by accident, as a way of taking them out of the surgery to a more relaxed atmosphere,” said Mark.

Currently, the ‘zoo’ has a ferret, two pigs, three micro pigs, two horses, six sausage dogs, two terrapins, ducks, geese, chickens, and a rooster called Eric.

And Mark says the ‘element of surprise’ his menagerie offers is part of the reason his experiment has worked – with children and adults alike.

“Going to the dentist is stressful for most people, you have to take time off work, find somewhere to park, you’ve no idea how long it’s going to take; coming here, to a rural setting, where there’s nice gardens and animals to look at, it’s not what people expect.”

“They come in, we have a conversation, there’s no rush, and then I ask ‘have you ever seen a ferret?’.”

“That’s the last thing they think you’re going to say!”

“With children, sometimes it’s a case of looking at the animal’s teeth together and saying “here are its teeth, we’re just going to have a look at your teeth.”

And Mark’s unique approach has paid off for his business too - in the last decade the practice has treated more than 4,000 patients, with people travelling from as far afield as Swansea and Aberystwyth to see him.

As well as marking the practice’s tenth birthday, 2014 also sees Mark’s son Liam, 21, joining the family firm as manager of the firm’s new practice, which opens in Neyland later this year.