Dental News

Dentists brush up on spa therapy to relax patients

By Olivia Barker
Feb 01, 2002

Open up and say ”Aaaahhh.”

Dentists across the USA are turning their offices into veritable spas, complete with massages, personalized music and facials. Patients getting a root canal can watch DVDs while indulging in foot, leg, back and hand rubdowns.

As dental insurance plans shrink, patients are forking over more of their own money for procedures. And with so many patients picky about where those out-of-pocket dollars go, dentists are finding newer, more pampering ways to draw them in.

Though a few pioneers strapped massage mats to their chairs a decade ago, the notion is only now catching on, particularly in trendy cities such as New York and L.A.

”You’re in another world, you’re psychologically divorced from your teeth,” says dentist Paul Tanners, whose Manhattan office recently started employing a massage therapist.

The response is ”almost embarrassing,” says Tanners, in practice for 40 years. ”Patients say, ‘Dr. Tanners, we’re coming in for the massage, not you.’ ”

At Debra Gray King’s Atlanta office, those undergoing whitening can tuck their feet into furry massage boots, shield their eyes with puffiness-reducing pads and dip their hands into hot paraffin before wrapping them in mittens. ”It puts you into this Zen, relaxation state,” King says. ”We want to do away with the reservations so many people have about going to the dentist. We want to make this a place people actually look forward to.”

Tamar Braxton is an open-mouthed fan. ”It’s like a first-class flight to Paris,” gushes Braxton, 23. The singer’s famous sister, Toni, also has slid into King’s chair. With the paraffin hand treatments, ”I don’t have to pay the extra $15 at the nail spa.”

Snuggled up with a pillow and blanket, local radio disc jockey Mairym ”Monte” Carlo, 26, felt ”like I was sleeping” as King attached porcelain veneers to eight of her top teeth. ”I’ve had a more horrific time shopping for a pair of jeans,” she says.

At what’s been touted as the Four Seasons of dentistry, 21st Century Dental in Irving, Texas, patients receive sterling service at the end of their appointments: Ibuprofen, lip balm, a hot towel and a milkshake are presented on a silver tray. ”We try to put ourselves in the place of the patient: What would make them forget this is a dental office?” explains Kent Smith, one of the practice’s two primary dentists.

A plasma-screen TV in the reception area is one way. Another is the scented candles lit during procedures. The patient’s 10 or 11 favorite tunes are floated through cordless headphones and burned onto a CD. The disc goes home with them as a souvenir.

Spa owners aren’t exactly concerned about the competition. ”When you go to the dentist, you don’t think about rejuvenation,” says Tara Oolie, whose Manhattan spa, Just Calm Down, opened last week.

You may get your feet rubbed, but ”you’re not going to get your brows tweezed,” Oolie says. ”If you go in with unruly brows, you’ll leave with them.”