Dentists brush up on spa therapy to relax patients
By Olivia Barker
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
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
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