Aromatherapy or Foot Rub With Your Fillings?

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by iEnhance | August 9, 2010 @ 03:00PM

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CONSUMER BRIEF: More and more dental practices are adding spa-like amenities and offering alternative treatments, making that trip to the dentist completely unlike the dreaded journey it once was. Spa dentistry has become the place where health, massage, and beauty treatments meet X-rays and fillings.

Massage therapist Jodie Haseleu massages the
feet of dental patient Mary Rekowski at The
Center for Cosmetic Dentistry

Almost everybody has a favorite way to deal with a trip to dentist. Of course, modern dentistry is virtually pain free, but we nonetheless have an almost universal dread of dental procedures, and sometimes the dentist, because the work takes place within our mouths, an orifice that is instinctively off limits to anything but food and drink.

So while actually submitting to the dentist's tools, some imagine distant tropical islands or those natural highs in life like the time you won first chair violin in the orchestra. But most of us just hang onto the chair arms in white-knuckled terror, listening to the whine of the dental drill, and waiting for a jolt or jab that never comes. Dialing down the fear level in dentistry is important, experts say, because many people are so terrified, they avoid the dentist altogether, thereby ignoring an important part of their total health. 

Ways to Numb

But the times are rapidly changing. Dentists are developing new ways to numb – or perhaps distract -- our irrational fears of oral treatment. So the latest trend in dentistry has become spa dentistry that makes available the soothing joys of a spa within, or next to, the dental office. You may notice the difference when you first arrive and are greeted by, not stacks of old magazines, but fountains, mosaics, artwork, gentle lighting, and soft music. While you're waiting for the dentist, or perhaps after your procedure, you can enjoy a hand, foot, neck, or back massage. Sometimes, calmative and succoring treatments take place while the dentist works.

Aniu Day Spa and SalonOther dental offices offer facials, manicures, aromatherapy, pedicures, and more. For instance, The Gelb Center, with offices in New York City and White Plains, New York, offers comprehensive dental treatments along with acupuncture, physical therapy for chronic craniofacial pain, and sleep disorder treatments. Many other dental spa facilities routinely include warm scented towels, heated paraffin hand treatments, personal CD players, virtual reality glasses, and your choice of a movie. The Smile Oasis Spa, at the New York Center for Cosmetic Dentistry, offers swank rejuvenative treatments like Hydro Gum Massage, Ayuvedic Lip Exfoliaton, and Laser White Wash, a three-step bleaching procedure for your pearly whites. All that is provided against a backdrop of relaxing mood music and images.

Experts know the trend is mushrooming around the landscape because a 2003 survey of 427 dentists at the American Dental Association's annual convention found about half offer some sort of spa amenities or alternative treatments. Moreover, the annual California Dental Association Conference has offered clinics in spa dentistry for one year, while at least two U.S. universities offer courses in spa dentistry. Hannelore R. Leavy, executive director of the Day Spa Association and The International Medical Spa Association, reckons anywhere from 150 to 250 U.S. offices offer spa dentistry.

"Many patients at The Gelb Center don't want any local anesthesia before their treatments, and prefer acupuncture for blocking the pain," says Ann Higgins, president of Utopia Communications in Tinton Falls, New Jersey.

Alternative Treatments

"We define a dental spa as a facility that offers not only pleasant spa amenities but some form of alternative treatments – like massage therapy – to decrease the stress levels of dental visits," says John Chien, consultant and co-founder of the Dental Spa, a dental spa with offices in San Francisco, New York, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and one apiece in Korea and San Clemente, California. Chien and his wife, co-founder dentist Lynn Watanabe whose joint motto is, "Your teeth, body and mind will feel great," also formed the International Dental Spa Association.

"The roots of spa dentistry go back to the 1970s when the Holistic Dental Association started using massage and acupressure to help remedy pain," says Chien. Dental spas got a huge shot in the arm when Dr. Watanabe observed how dental schools are very skilled in teaching students how to use the latest high tech equipment but leave a lot to be desired when it comes to reducing patients' anxiety levels. Eventually, Dr. Watanabe met a massage therapist and aesthetician (someone who gives facials), and invited her into her practice along with another massage therapist who had worked with plastic surgeons.

Like their plastic surgery brethren who offer the joys of medispas along with rejuvenation surgery, spa dentistry lessens the white knuckle effect while helping medically. According to the website at the Atlanta Center for Cosmetic Dentistry: "Therapeutic massage not only helps you relax and reduce your anxiety levels, it also provides many other important health benefits like relaxing the nervous system, increasing blood circulation, and flexibility. The psychological benefits of massage can include an improved sense of well-being and increased body awareness – all so important for overall health."

Chase the Dread

And if all that still hasn't chased the dread of the dentist from your mind, imagine going to the dentists and being indulged with Swedish massage, manual lymphatic drainage, neuromuscular therapy, reflexology, and myofascial release. While your teeth are being cleaned, opt for dipping your hands into a bowl of warm paraffin hand wash sitting next to your dental chair, and you may not skip your next checkup.

In an age when instant gratification takes too long for most people, some dental offices are also adding faster procedures for patients with busy schedules and lifestyle.

"Patients want instant results, and many more want a much brighter shade of white," says Julio E. Hernandez, D.M.D. at the MIAMI Institute in Miami, Florida, which offers a "Day White" procedure that compresses a normal eight-hour home bleaching regiment into just half an hour. Additionally, more dental offices are offering laser dentistry and equipping their offices with CEREC, a technology that allows patients to leave dentists' offices with porcelain restorations in place, only an hour after the impressions have been taken. Before CEREC, the patient had to make two appointments several weeks apart and wear for two a temporary covering on the prepared teeth.

Aniu Day Spa and Salon BuildingPerhaps the ultimate in spa dentistry, a destination facility, has been built by Dr. Chris Kammer, a founding member of the Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Dr. Kammer's practice, the Center for Cosmetic Dentistry in Madison, Wisconsin, is located next to a state-of-the-art spa facility, where dental services share a building and entryway with Aniu Day Spa and Salon, a 20,000-square foot destination spa that offers Jacuzzi, steam room, pedicures, manicures and a full hair salon. Dr. Kammer additionally built for dentists a 50-seat educational theater that shows on ten-foot screen procedures from 14 operatories.

"Dentistry has transformed itself in the last five years," says Dr. Kammer.

Now, only if dentists would just quit asking about your vacation, family and hobbies while your mouth is stuffed with cotton and a strong suction tube.

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