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Teeth, face and feet: The new dental experience

Finally there's a reason to smile at the dentist's: A patient relaxes after a foot massage given during a dental procedure.
Finally there's a reason to smile at the dentist's: A patient relaxes after a foot massage given during a dental procedure.  

By Rea Blakey
CNN Medical Unit

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Say the word "spa" and most of us think "relaxation". Say the word "dentist" and at least one in every seven Americans will think words like "anxiety", "pain", and "fear".

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fewer than two-thirds of adult Americans reported visiting a dentist during the past 12 months.

Another widely reported factoid suggests only half of the American population gets regular dental care. So some dentists are changing their practices to make the dental experience a more relaxing one for more people.

Spa techniques like reflexology --strategic foot massage -- can help relax anxious dental patients. It's a technique used by New York City dentist Dr. Paul Tanners in his practice.

Tanners insists his dental suite on tony Madison Avenue is not a dental spa. "No lemon slices on eyelids here," he quips.

But he does provide patients with the luxury of having their soles pampered during their dental work.

"You know you're having your having dentistry done, you don't forget for a second, but you kinda focus on your feet," says Tanners of his patients.

The last time Gary Weinstein visited Dr. Tanners' office, he stayed in the dentist's chair for an extra 20 minutes -- even though the dentist was finished working on him.

Why? Weinstein says blame it on the reflexology.

"Its not a bad thing when they sit down and they start massaging your feet, and your legs and your arms," he says, a dreamy look on his face.

Heart smart

Patient relaxation during dental procedures is a big part of massage therapist Iza Everett's job. "I work mainly on the soles of the feet," says this busy professional.

CNN's Rea Blakey reports some dentists are using spa techniques such as massages to ease patient fears and make their visit more comfortable (June 25)

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Oral health problems and dental visits cost $164 million hours of lost work production per year.

Source: CDC

Everett works at the dentist's office and also provides spa services at New York's Gloria Cabrera Salon and Spa. She says providing reflexology for patients in a dental office is extremely rewarding because she feels she's truly helping people overcome anxiety and enhance their oral health by massaging their feet during their entire dental procedure.

"The patients come over here, they come with a lot of stress, ya know, and they love it," she says.

In fact, the American Dental Association recommends stress reduction techniques -- especially for patients with known heart disease. That includes scheduling short dental appointments early in the day to reduce heart attack risk.

Because Weinstein has had two heart valves replaced, even a simple teeth cleaning procedure could put him at risk for a rare life threatening condition called bacterial endocarditis.

Reducing the risk of heart attack with relaxation therapy and monitoring for signs of bacterial endocarditis is a smart move for any dentist working with a heart patient like Weinstein.

But wait, there's more...

"Also, I'm curious about botox," says the retired Weinstein.

How convenient.

Dr. Tanners also offers that service in the dental office for his busy patients. On the day we visited the dental suite Weinstein was getting a botox consult from certified plastic surgeon Dr. Michelle Zweifler.

Another of Tanners' regular patients, Shirley Asencio, was actually getting several botox injections to make her barely furrowed brow less visible.

Why get botox treatments in the dental office? Shirley's reply: "Because it was here. I come and see Dr. Tanners and its the one place where I can get everything pretty much done."

Zweifler, who operates her own private practice in New York city, schedules minor plastic surgery procedures like botox to be performed on patients while they're in Tanners' dental chair.

She says its a natural extension of dental work, "We help with the teeth and the area around the teeth and overall enhancing your smile and patient satisfaction and overall results."

Massage therapist Iza Everett says dental patients love receiving her foot massages.  

Harried attorney David Rabbach likes the dentistry -- and the escape. He says some days he actually looks forward to spending an hour or two in the dental chair.

"You come out of here less stressed than you went in," Rabbach says.

And he says the "fancy footwork" is a whole different approach that's paying extra dividends to him as an attorney. "It even helped me increase my billing rate. I smile now, I can get more money," adds the happy lawyer.

Tanners' clients are often short on time, so being able to slide off the loafers, get a great foot rub and a root canal all at once is the ultimate in multi-tasking for another attorney we met during our visit, Yoshi Shimada.

I couldn't help but remark that Shimada was the second attorney in the dental chair that day who said reflexology during root canal was a relaxing experience. "Well, I guess attorneys tell the truth?" he said, as if asking me a question at the same time.

Though the occasional shrill drill is still heard, the anxiety often associated with it seems to be drowned out by a spa-like treatment.




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