Dental News

Dentists now aiming to pamper more than just your teeth

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

During those dreaded moments when her dentist drills and scrapes, Nancy Rubenstein enjoys a back massage, a manicure, a cool mask for her eyes and slippers to warm her feet.

If that isn’t enough, Rubenstein can slip on virtual reality glasses and escape to Hawaii or another exotic locale. Meanwhile, the smell of chocolate-chip cookies wafts from a nearby oven.

“Can I come here on vacation?” Rubenstein jokes after her dentist, Dr. Kenneth Mogell, peered into her mouth during a recent checkup.

Mogell started adding the cozy touches – aromatherapy candles, warm pillows and spa services – to make dental appointments less frightening and even enjoyable.

The concept is becoming more popular nationally, with dental offices making simple additions, such as massage-padded chairs, to complete transformations that make the office look like luxurious day spas.

“We want to distract them so much that they don’t notice the fact that I’m putting a needle in their mouths,” Mogell said from his comfy office reminiscent of a home’s library.

The spa-like approach is designed to attract the dental-phobic: clients too anxious to go through with their dental appointments. It also helps bring in those who might seek out beauty treatments. Some offices offer Botox and collagen injections to help erase any smile lines around those new porcelain whites.

The pampering, like cosmetic dentistry services, also help bring in clients who typically need less dental work than their parents did. Far fewer people are missing their teeth than 20 years ago, according to the latest U.S. Surgeon General’s report.

As a result, less than two-thirds of adults visited a dentist in the last year, reports the Centers for Disease Control.

Even so, the money Americans spend on dental work is climbing by billions of dollars each year, with $60 billion spent two years ago, and the vast majority of dentists reporting that they do some cosmetic procedures.

Dr. Gary Green, who specializes in reparative and cosmetic dentistry in his St. Louis-based practice, said he won’t entirely copy the spa trend that’s creeping up and down the East and West coasts.

Green has patients who sit in his chair for four or five hours at a time, so it helps if they’re relaxed and comfortable.

But he said having a masseuse work on his patients’ feet while he’s working on their mouths might compromise the sterile environment. And if a masseur tickles the wrong spot, that could cause problems.

“We can’t afford to have the patient move. We need their undivided attention,” he said.

Instead, Green is considering renting space in his historic mansion-turned office to a massage therapist who can work with clients before and after appointments. He also offers small touches – stereo headphones, scented candles and warm pillows.

“We’re at a time now where people want instant gratification and any way we can make it easier for them is good for both of us,” Green said.

Some services at so-called dental spas don’t cost much more than a traditional dentist and non-cosmetic procedures can be at least partially covered by insurance.

Dental spas that offer more elaborate services, such as Houston’s Imagemax Dental Day Spa, charge for each treatment separately. There, clients can breathe pure oxygen in a Japanese Zen garden before having a bubble-jet gum massage during their teeth cleaning. They can spend the rest of the day pampering the rest of their bodies, with seaweed body wraps, microdermabrasian facials, hot stone massages and Botox injections.

Dr. Kimberly Harms, a consumer adviser for the American Dental Association, said patients, many of whom have become more accustomed to conveniences and small comforts in their daily lives, are driving the changes.

Harms, who describes herself as a dental-phobic patient, said she designed her Farmington, Minn., office with a living room, library and garden with birds, flowers, trees and water.

Though the services vary, most dentists say they want their offices to feel less like a doctor’s office and more like home.

That’s why Mogell in Boca Raton doesn’t mind if his patients sully their freshly cleaned smiles with a warm chocolate-chip cookie.

“We just like to spoil everybody,” he said.