A dental spa, or dental day spa, is a facility that provides spa treatments and dental services. Supervised by a licensed dentist or dental hygienist, dental spas integrate dental treatments and spa treatments, including skincare and massage. Spa dentistry and dental spas have increased in popularity since the late 1990s and offer services that can distract and relax anxious or phobic dental patients. They may also incorporate cosmetic dentistry and cosmetic spa treatments, contributing to a holistic aesthetic experience. It is estimated that about one fifth of dental offices in the United States offer some sort of spa services to their patients.
An estimated 10-15 percent of the population of the United States is reported to have dental fear or anxiety, which can lead these people to avoid essential dental care, which then causes their oral health to continue to deteriorate. Researchers have been studying dental fear since the 1950s, and treatments have continued to develop since then. The most successful approaches to treating patients with dental fear involve behavioral therapy techniques. Dental spas arose at least in part to soothe the anxieties of people with dental fear, intending to create a positive connotation for dentistry and a calming experience for the patient. Spas combine general dentistry, restorative dental therapies, and cosmetic dentistry with spa treatments like facials, reflexology, massage therapy, Botox and Restylane, aromatherapy, and other relaxing and rejuvenating services. Practitioners often refer to their field as “relaxation dentistry.” Some dental spas provide concierge services, including babysitting and making dinner reservations for patients, while others provide limousine services to and from your appointment and send you off with care packages of fresh flowers and wine. Of course, these services come at a cost, but the relaxation they offer may be worth it to patients. At some practices, spa services may be complimentary, but because the services provided are often cosmetic, and therefore unlikely to be covered by insurance, they already demand a relatively high price.
Because there is no specific definition of “dental spa,” it is impossible to know the specific number of dental spas that exist in the United States. It is believed that the first dental spa in the United States is the Atlanta Center for Cosmetic Dentistry, which provided spa services to dental patients as early as 1994. Shortly thereafter, more dentists began employing massage therapists to provide a relaxing distraction for their patients. In the early 2000s, these services began expanding, and dental offices began offering eye masks, paraffin wax treatments for the hands, and other relaxing treatments; in 2002, Lynn Watanabe, DDS, opened a dental spa in California that kept a full-time esthetician and a full-time massage therapist on staff. Dr. Watanabe is widely considered to be a pioneer in the dental spa industry.
Like cosmetic dentistry, spa dentistry is not recognized as a dental specialty by the American Dental Association (ADA). It is embraced by the Holistic Dental Association, an organization founded in 1978 to highlight the overall well-being of dental patients. It is also recognized by the International Medical Spa Association and the Day Spa Association, and Dr. Watanabe founded the International Dental Spa Association in 2002; as this organization grows, its members continue to define and refine the definitions of what makes a dental spa.