The countdown goes something like this: 3) IRS auditor, 2) ex-husband's new 20-year-old girlfriend, 1) dentist. The top three people we most hate to see.
"Let's face it," says Dr. Lorin Berland, a dentist in Dallas. "Dentistry can suck." A third of Americans, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, haven't even set foot in the dentist's office in the past year.
Berland, along with an increasing number of dentists all over the country, is trying to change that. He wants dental appointments to be less about pain and drilling and more about relaxation, foot massage and soothing aromatherapy.
Spa dentistry, as it's called, means you can enjoy a hot paraffin-wax hand treatment while getting your teeth cleaned. Or you can slip on some virtual-reality glasses and watch your favorite movie. Or you might just lie back and let the scent of lavender and the sound of falling water quiet your anxiety, while a licensed massage therapist eases the crick in your neck.
Most vacations aren't this good. In response to spa dentistry's growing popularity, the Chicago Dental Society will teach its first course on the practice at its annual midwinter meeting in February, expected to attract 35,000 industry professionals.
"Some people are born to cater to people, and others have to be taught," says Dr. Grace Sun, a dentist in Los Angeles who, without benefit of a lecture, offers massage, fruit smoothies and movies. In addition, she provides luxury hotel-style concierge services: while you're in the (vibrating, of course) chair, her staff makes dinner reservations, takes your cell-phone calls, baby-sits, dog-sits, orders in food or does just about anything else you ask.
Dr. Debra Gray King of the Atlanta Center for Cosmetic Dentistry calls her practice "the Ritz-Carlton of dentistry" and in fact sends her "dental concierges" to the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center for training in client relations. They're taught to squire each patient as he or she navigates the various rooms of the center's luxe 8,400-sq.-ft. Twelve Oaks--esque mansion.
Once in the dentist's chair, King's patients can use the attached flat-panel monitor to watch TV, play a DVD or surf the Web. Can't see the screen? No worries, there's one wired to the ceiling too. Noise-reduction headphones block the screech of the drill and play a CD of your choice, and the specially constructed dental chair channels the sound waves from the music into a full-body massage. "The more relaxed the patient is," says King, "the easier our job."
Patients are responding. Martha Dickey, a magazine publisher in Atlanta, says a hot paraffin-wax treatment can "change your whole feeling about going to the dentist. You feel like you're there to get nurtured and pampered. It's fabulous. Every one of your senses is taken care of." If only the offices of the IRS were as pleasant.
You can e-mail Sora at email@example.com