Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments (5)

How about a foot massage with that root canal?

Apparently, dentists are now offering feel-good perks to compliment their regular services. One dentist turned her Chicago-based practice into a “dental spa,” complete with free 10 minute massages, cooling eye masks, and peppermint foot scrubs. Cushy lounge chairs, scented candles, herbal tea, soothing music and flat screen TVs adorn the office. Dr. Mitchell says that this is her way of making a trip to the dentist “a really positive experience.”

The American Dental Association estimates that up to 25% of Americans avoid dentists because of fear of pain.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about spa dentistry. Although I love massages, I’m sure if I were having one at the dentist, the impending doom of drilling and novocaine would diminish my enjoyment. It’s kind of like taking your boyfriend to dinner to break up with him – how much will you really enjoy the meal?

Beyond that, I wonder if the anxiety surrounding dental visits (provided in a spa-like setting) would cause some kind of anxiety transfer to spas in general? I can imagine that if people subconsciously associate foot massages or scented candles with tooth drilling, the next time they get a spa certificate as a gift they may pass it on at a white elephant party.

What do you think? Would you like to see more dental spas crop up across the nation?

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

You may also like these posts

Read comments »

5 Responses to “How about a foot massage with that root canal?”

  1. ChickP says:

    I wouldn’t want to pay more for dental services than necessary, though in theory, I like the idea.

  2. meg3847 says:

    I like the idea of making the patient more comfortable in the dentist chair, but I’m not convinced it plays out well in practice. My denist’s office is not exactly on spa level, but they try to provide more amenities. For example, they provide a hot neck wrap. Feeling already a little anxious, this just made me feel overheated and strangled. They also provide ipods to listen to while getting fillings. This was also sort of nice, except the dentist kept trying to communicate to me and I couldn’t hear him or see the buttons to turn the volume down… I personally think they ought just foget about foot massages and the like and just stick to nitrous.

  3. ValJonesMD says:

    Yes, Meg, I agree with you! Or maybe they can give us a nice certificate to go to a spa after we’ve had our work done!

  4. Frank Varon DDS says:

    As a dentist, my personal feelings are that this is a gimmick to attract new patients and to have the ability to boost profitability by offering other ancillary services. How about a foot massage while having that wart on your hand torched? Most of my colleagues feel that it is a phase. Patients see dentists to have dental work done not to have their feet massaged.

  5. ValJonesMD says:

    Although the idea of “making dentistry a positive experience” is well intentioned, I had to laugh at your analogy, Frank, of having your hand sutured or burned while getting a foot massage. This really brings to light the reason why we have mixed feelings about this approach… :)

Return to article »

Latest Interviews

How To Make Inpatient Medical Practice Fun Again: Try Locum Tenens Work

It s no secret that most physicians are unhappy with the way things are going in healthcare. Surveys report high levels of job dissatisfaction burn out and even suicide. In fact some believe that up to a third of the US physician work force is planning to leave the profession…

Read more »

Caring For Winter Olympians In Sochi: An Interview With Team USA’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gloria Beim

I am a huge fan of the winter Olympics partly because I grew up in Canada where most kids can ski and skate before they can run and partly because I used to participate in Downhill ski racing. Now that I m a rehab physician with a reconstructed knee I…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

Richmond, VA – In an effort to simplify inpatient medical billing, one area hospitalist group has determined that “altered mental status” (ICD-9 780.97) is the most efficient code for use in any patient work up.

“When you enter a hospital, you’re bound to have some kind of mental status change,” said Dr. Fishbinder, co-partner of Area Hospitalists, PLLC. “Whether it’s confusion about where your room is located in relationship to the visitor’s parking structure, frustration with being woken up every hour or two to check your vital signs, or just plain old fatigue from being sick, you are not thinking as clearly as before you were admitted. And that’s all the justification we need to order anything from drug and toxin screens, to blood cultures, brain MRIs, tagged red blood cell nuclear scans, or cardiac Holter monitoring. There really is no limit to what we can pursue with our tests.”

Common causes of mental status changes in the elderly include medicine-induced cognitive side effects, disorientation due to disruption in daily routines, age-related memory impairment, and urinary tract infections.

“The urinalysis is not a very exciting medical test,” stated Dr. Fishbinder. “It doesn’t matter that it’s cheap, fast, and most likely to provide an explanation for strange behavior in hospitalized patients. It’s really not as elegant as the testing involved in a chronic anemia or metabolic encephalopathy work up. I keep it in my back pocket in case all other tests are negative, including brain MRIs and PET scans.”

Nursing staff at Richmond Medical Hospital report that efforts to inform hospitalists about foul smelling urine have generally fallen on deaf ears. “I have tried to tell the hospitalists about cloudy or bloody urine that I see in patients who are undergoing extensive work ups for mental status changes,” reports nurse Sandy Anderson. “But they insist that ‘all urine smells bad’ and it’s really more of a red herring.”

Another nurse reports that delay in diagnosing urinary tract infections (while patients are scheduled for brain MRIs, nuclear scans, and biopsies) can lead to worsening symptoms which accelerate and expand testing. “Some of my patients are transferred to the ICU during the altered mental status work up,” states nurse Anita Misra. “The doctors seem to be very excited about the additional technology available to them in the intensive care setting. Between the central line placement, arterial blood gasses, and vast array of IV fluid and medication options, urosepsis is really an excellent entré into a whole new level of care.”

“As far as medicine-induced mental status changes are concerned,” added Dr. Fishbinder, “We’ve never seen a single case in the past 10 years. Today’s patients are incredibly resilient and can tolerate mixes of opioids, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, and benzodiazepines without any difficulty. We know this because most patients have been prescribed these cocktails and have been taking them for years.”

Patient family members have expressed gratitude for Dr. Fishbinder’s diagnostic process, and report that they are very pleased that he is doing everything in his power to “get to the bottom” of why their loved one isn’t as sharp as they used to be.

“I thought my mom was acting strange ever since she started taking stronger pain medicine for her arthritis,” says Nelly Hurtong, the daughter of one of Dr. Fishbinder’s inpatients. “But now I see that there are deeper reasons for her ‘altered mental status’ thanks to the brain MRI that showed some mild generalized atrophy.”

Hospital administrators praise Dr. Fishbinder as one of their top physicians. “He will do whatever it takes to figure out the true cause of patients’ cognitive impairments.” Says CEO, Daniel Griffiths. “And not only is that good medicine, it is great for our Press Ganey scores and our bottom line.”

As for the nursing staff, Griffiths offered a less glowing review. “It’s unfortunate that our nurses seem preoccupied with urine testing and medication reconciliation. I think it might be time for us to mandate further training to help them appreciate more of the medical nuances inherent in quality patient care.”

Dr. Fishbinder is in the process of creating a half-day seminar on ‘altered mental status in the inpatient setting,’ offering CME credits to physicians who enroll. Richmond Medical Hospital intends to sponsor Dr. Fishbinder’s course, and franchise it to other hospitals in the state, and ultimately nationally.


Click here for a musical take on over-testing.

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

Unaccountable: A Book About The Underbelly Of Hospital Care

I met Dr. Marty Makary over lunch at Founding Farmers restaurant in DC about three years ago. We had an animated conversation about hospital safety the potential contribution of checklists to reducing medical errors and his upcoming book about the need for more transparency in the healthcare system. Marty was…

Read more »

See all book reviews »