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The dental spa: polishing or tarnishing?

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Whether it’s soothing music, massage chairs or a warm blanket, more and more dental offices are now embracing the concept of comfort enhancement for their patients. For those who are calling out for luxury, these offices answer in a big way. In particular, one dental spa markets itself as a place where patients can walk in for a healthier looking smile in only 20 minutes. With slogans like “Dental office with a spa feel,” “No drills, no fills and no moaning here,” some offices only offer coronal scaling, polishing and whitening. Others have Botox therapy, manicures and facials available.

Where did this all come from? Perhaps this idea of dental spas began years ago. Going back to when dentists were also barbers, and you could get a haircut, shave and tooth pulled all in one afternoon. Times of the past have shifted from being a surgeon-barber, to a much more welcoming “therapy” type feeling of the twenty-first century. While no one is sure who coined the term “dental spa”, some acknowledge an early type of dental spa as Perioromatherapy.

Dental spas may seem like a safe haven for those with fear and anxiety about visiting a dentist but dental professionals are questioning the safety and efficacy of these spas. For example, one dental spa has three registered dental hygienists who see about three clients each hour. With no dentist on staff, clients are not given a comprehensive oral exam nor is a full medical history recorded prior to treatment. This poses a risk to patients with allergies or those that are on certain medications that could compromise their time in the dental chair. Aside from this, clients may be getting a false sense that they are getting regular, comprehensive dental care by visiting the dental spa every few months, or before a special occasion. During the cleanings, spas often do not perform any subgingival scaling or root planing so that patients can feel comfortable and pain-free. Clearly, the cleanings provided by the spa are effective in removing supragingival plaque and calculus, but what about everything else? Not removing subgingival calculus can lead to an accumulation of plaque at the periodontal pocket, which can lead to disease. Additionally, a typical hygienist is usually with his or her patients for about 30 minutes to an hour. At the dental spa, however, hygienists are pressured to meet the high demands of patients and speed through procedures in about 20 minutes. This scenario can be harmful to the patient as it can lead to inaccuracies and missed calculus during the cleaning but it can also add stress to the practitioner, leading to things like burnout and fatigue.

Overall, the dental spa may be a concept to help enhance patient comfort and compliance, but at what costs? Patients should be advised that visiting a dental spa may not always be the same as visiting their dentist and dental spas need to maintain ethical and professional standards when providing services to patients in need.

What are your thoughts on the dental spa trend?

~Alex Barerra, Houston ’17

Alex Barrera

Alex Barrera is a 2nd year dental student at the University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston. Alex is an active member of ASDA and is also involved in other student organizations, community service, and research.

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4 Comments

  1. Dental polishing is also know as dental bleaching. but i have faced so many problems after getting treatment of dental bleaching like gums bleeding.

  2. This can really help with patients have fear visiting dentists. By having this idea i think especially children will be more calm when having a visit to their dentists.

  3. I definitely enjoy every little bit of it and I have bookmarked your blog.

  4. A very good resource for everybody that wants to read a good blog.

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