Open Wide and Relax — Really!


“This was the best root canal ever.” The words rolled off Susan Barnes’ root canals and a crown under her belt, she knows what hours of sitting through massage and reflexology rooms, bars for cappuccino, juice, or mineral water, entertainment units, fireplaces, arboretums, and waterfalls.

“It’s a niche market that’s definitely becoming more common,” says Daniel Block, a designer for Sullivan-Schein Dental, noting a 15% increase in boutique business in the western part of the U.S. alone. A competitor, Total Health Environment Design, reports a roughly 40% swell nationwide.

Dentists apparently want to cater to patients’ needs, either by easing tension, or offering distraction or convenience. For pediatric practices, Block has designed rooms with video games and Internet access. For dentists’ offices with corporate clients, business centers have been installed.

Mark Tholen, DDS, attributes the interest in the spa model to a growing desire to build customer confidence. “If people walk into an office that is of high design and very aesthetically pleasing, they are going to have a higher level of trust than if they walk into a little Jack-in-the-box-type of place,” he says.

The dental trade has become more competitive in recent years, especially with the general improvements in public oral health. With fewer people being treated for tooth or gum disease and greater consumer demand to look and feel good, dentists have turned to cosmetic services, high-tech equipment, and enhanced customer service to keep business flowing.

It’s not unusual, for instance, for a dentist to sit down with a patient in a beautifully decorated consultation room with a 19-inch TV monitor displaying a digital image of what the patient would look like if she decided to surgically alter some part of her mouth.

It is also not unheard of to have a dentist share space with another professional, such as a massage therapist or a plastic surgeon, and have patients use the services of each during one visit.

Going Boutique

The American Dental Association is aware of boutique clinics, but has not issued an official statement on the topic.

One of the group’s consumer advisers, Kimberly Harms, DDS, says the ADA’s primary concern is that patients get the best oral healthcare possible. As long as the professionals involved are appropriately licensed, and everyone adheres to local and regional laws, the ADA sees no problem with it, and leaves such decisions to the individual dentist.

Harms should know. She is Susan Barnes’ dentist, and since the installation of spa-like features in her office, business has tripled. She has been practicing this type of dentistry for almost a decade, however, and hesitantly admits to being ahead of the curve. “I just thought of how I would want to be treated as a patient,” she says.

When asked whether the cost of spa-like services affects her dental fees, Harms says her family keeps up the office and gardens so there has not been much overhead to pass along to patients. Her situation may be unique, she confesses, adding that, “Typically, you get what you pay for.”

At some new boutique dental offices, that may mean a foot massage during a cleaning, a consultation with a plastic surgeon about getting Botox injections, cookies and a smile to go.