Open Up and Say Spa
Your opinion of going to the dentist’s office might change if you choose to have your teeth serviced at a dental spa, where perks such as paraffin hand treatments and aromatherapy are de rigueur.
Lee “Buzzy” Pyles remembers the big green monster like it was yesterday. His not-so-affectionate nickname for the old-fashioned dental X-ray machines of his younger days represents how many of us feel about a trip to the dentist: fearful. Although Pyles says he was never really afraid of dentists, they didn’t exactly give him the warm fuzzies. The mechanical, sterile environment was just something he had to endure a few times a year to maintain a healthy smile.
Then he went to a dental spa.
“Everything was so different,” he says. “I knew I was moving into a whole new set of rules.”
The 55-year-old catastrophe insurance adjuster from Rowlett was not familiar with the concept of spa dentistry when he first checked in to it almost two years ago. He was certainly no stranger to the dentist’s office. “I didn’t have a tooth in my head that didn’t have some kind of filling in it,” he says. But the spa aspect had him skeptical.
This is a guy who’s had one manicure in his entire life—while he was getting a haircut before his wedding day. During that visit, the manicurist told him he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to finish the job in one sitting. So spa treatments at the dentist’s office? Yeah, that was a tough sell.
Pyles changed his mind pretty quickly, though, when he walked into Star Ranch Dental Spa in Plano.
“The place is gorgeous,” Pyles says. “My first thought was: what have I been doing all these years?”
Star Ranch is one of many such offices in the Dallas-Fort Worth area—dental practices that offer spa services, either full-scale or as an added bonus. At Star Ranch, for example, the extra services are complimentary and include perks such as paraffin hand treatments, cooling/heating neck wraps, aromatherapy, and massage chairs.
Dr. Peter Barnett, owner of Star Ranch, says his office was created to be a relaxing environment. When he and his wife, Susan Clay, were designing the practice nearly three years ago, their goal was to change patients’ expectations of what a trip to the dentist is all about. Warm colors, fountains in the dental room, and cabinets for patients’ personal belongings are just a few of the comforting design touches the couple incorporated into Star Ranch.
“This just doesn’t feel like a dentist’s office,” Barnett says. “We wanted to create something that felt more like walking into a gallery in Canyon Road [in Santa Fe].”
Dr. Lorin Berland, whose Dental Arts Center in Dallas’ Arts District is considered to be one of the first dental spas in the country, has been providing similar luxury services for more than a decade. For Berland, who offers such services as microdermabrasion and massage therapy at his office, it’s about dentists finally realizing that their profession can be frightening for the average Joe, and taking the extra step to make patients feel pampered while undergoing treatment makes them likely to visit their dentist more frequently. In the long run, that means patients with healthier teeth.
Even though Berland blazed the trail of spa dentistry, he has said that he thinks the business has gotten a little out of control.
“Spa dentistry has become something of a monster today,” he told the trade publication Dental Economics in 2005. “It’s crazy. … I pioneered the concept, and now, between my house and my office, there are at least four dental spa offices.”
If Berland is right, it would be difficult to prove. The American Dental Association takes no official stance on spa dentistry and doesn’t keep tabs on the industry. According to an ADA survey from 2004, however, the last time such information was collected, about 50 percent of the surveyed dental offices reported offering “some sort of spa or office amenities to their patients.” Headphones, neck rests, warm towels, and complimentary snacks or beverages were the most common offerings. Of the 322 dentists surveyed, less than 5 percent provided services such as massages, facials, and manicures.
Only time will tell if the spa dentistry market has truly become oversaturated. But if patients like Kristen Bevil, a 24-year-old corporate meeting and event planner from Addison, are any indication, it won’t be happening any time soon.
She says dental spas take the anxiety out of going to the dentist and even claims that she looks forward to her visits to Star Ranch. After a lengthy query about her experiences and views on the industry, Bevil asks possibly the best question of all: “Why would you not choose a dental spa?”