Burning candles, relaxing music, essential oils and even neck pillows have certainly found their way into Australian dentist practices. Jessica Prince-Montague charts the rise of the dental day spa.
For many people, visiting the dentist remains a daunting prospect. They may have had a negative experience as a child or they may fear machinery in their mouth. Nonetheless, these people are willing to risk their oral health just to avoid the anxiety of going altogether. A new breed of dental surgery, however, is tapping into this market and aiming to make the whole experience exactly that—a more pleasant experience. They are dental spas—practices that combine elements of a traditional day spa with that of dentistry. Think scented candles, soothing music, neck pillows, fleece blankets, and beautiful plush surrounds. Some of these businesses even aim to distract patients by offering music headphones or installing televisions on the ceiling that can stream a patient’s favourite film while they’re getting work done. According to the Australian Dental Association, dental spas are much more popular in the United States than in Australia. However, an increasing number are popping up around the country, aimed at appealing to patients with their increased customer service and ambience, as well as the actual dental treatment itself. Dr Joseph Badr is the managing director and principal dentist of D-Spa in Melbourne, which is considered to be Australia’s first dental spa. Dr Badr opened his South Yarra premises in 2001 and such is its popularity, his stable has now grown to three separate locations. Thirteen years ago, however, it wasn’t a conscious decision to crease a ‘spa’, as such. “I just wanted a practice that would demystify the whole dental experience and to make it more user-friendly,” he says. “The idea of the ‘family dentist’ was also starting to go out of fashion so I wanted to create something different and a bit unique.” In other words, Dr Badr didn’t know he was at the crux of a trend. He spent a year planning the new practice, carefully selecting the interior colour palette (fresh and slightly earthy), the smell, music and even the shade of the dentist chair (he went with aqua to represent water and relaxation). His target market was originally women aged 30 to 55, and within three years, his first premises reached capacity, so he opened a second practice. Then, by 2007, the continued growth warranted a third. Dr Badr says that business has been strong ever since, and some original patients now bring their kids along. While D-Spa is the perfect example of a successful dental practice incorporating spa-like elements to deliver that more relaxing experience (and also differentiate themselves in the marketplace), other practices have taken it a step further. Some now also offer complementary non-dental services in addition to their standard repertoire. In other words, services you would find in a day spa—think massages, facials, acupuncture and even Botox injections. The notion being that patients can experience that spa-like experience and have some other treatments done while they’re booked in for a routine dental check-up. Sanctuary Dental Spa is one such
example. The business has three
locations in Australia (two in Sydney and one in Melbourne) and in addition to dentistry, offers traditional beauty treatments (like hair removal, massage, spray tanning and facials), along with cosmetic injectables (Botox), and even surgery (such as breast augmentation and liposuction). However, Sanctuary actually took the reverse route. They were already a well-established beauty institution, and added dentistry into the fold last November. Nevertheless, they recognised a niche market catering to those wanting a relaxed, ‘spa’ atmosphere in which to visit their dentist, as well as the chance to combine this with other appointments. “Most clients have multiple treatments when they visit us, especially adults with children,” explains operations manager Joanne Peczek. “They will come in as a family and then the wife will go for a massage while the three others have their dental appointment, then it will be the husband’s turn for a massage.” Peczek says it’s common for the mother in this situation to add a Botox appointment or beauty treatment in there too. Since its inception late last year, Peczek says Sanctuary has serviced over 100 new dental clients and also embraced existing beauty clients who now get their dental done at the same location. She says the one-stop-shop approach has been good for business. “The beauty [arm of the business] does experience a quiet time from July,” says Peczek of the natural decline due to winter. “So this overlaps in a way that helps to balance out the business.” But the question remains: does the flashiness of a dental spa make them a better place for patients to get work done? “The dentistry at these centres will be of no greater or lesser standard than other traditional practices,” says Dr Peter Alldritt, chair of the Australian Dental Association’s Oral Health Committee. “Patients who want additional services that give a more pampered, luxurious experience will naturally have to factor in that this will require additional cost on top of the dental treatment itself.” But surely, if the end result of dental spas is that some Australians are more likely to go, then that must be a good thing? Dr Badr thinks so, but also maintains the best way to guarantee recurring patients (and their dental health) is to look after them on all levels. In other words, you can’t only rely on the bells-and-whistles of a dental spa to create a solid business base. “The key for D-Spa has been creating the whole package. The physical premises as well as the smell and atmosphere is one thing, but you also need to create an experience for the patient in order for it to be successful,” says Dr Badr. He counts connecting with patients, putting them at ease and positive reinforcement as examples of this, in addition to the highest level of dentistry, which is a given. “It’s the level and consistency of our service that gets people coming back,” he continues. “So, you can have a great premises, but ultimately you always need to deliver on the quality of service as well.”