It started in the 1980s when some dentists began offering headphones with a selection of music to distract patients from dental procedures. Meanwhile, interest in holistic treatments extended to dentistry and baby boomers came of age with unprecedented discretionary income and the willingness to spend it on convenience, comfort and self improvement. These forces come together in the dental spa, where alternative therapies and spa pampering are offered alongside traditional dental care.
Dental spas seek to lure the 25% of patients who the ADA claims avoid dental visits out of fear. "Spa" dentists now use state-of-the-art instruments such as lasers and chairside systems to increase patient comfort and offer amenities such as music, hot towels, refreshments, blankets, candles, aromatherapy and massage which have been shown to lower patients' blood pressure. In addition to tranquil rooms and dim lighting, extra services such as acupuncture, reflexology, botox treatments, facials, sleep disorder treatments and physical therapy may also be offered for a fee.
The good news for dentists is that patients are willing to pay out of pocket for the added services and convenience not covered by insurance and to opt for elective dental work as a result of their increased comfort level. Practices can extend their marketing through web portals such as spafinder.com, spaindex.com and the almighty word of mouth.
Braun Dental, Barre, Vermont, is among the growing number of practices making patients feel more at ease with amentities and the convenience of an in-house laboratory. "If the patient visits an office that goes the extra mile to make him feel comfortable, he has more confidence in the practice," says Larry Lambeth, Braun's laboratory technician. "It's like buying a diamond: there's a difference between walking into Tiffany's versus a local jewelry store."