Dr. Brent Rusnak knows most people enjoy going to a spa. Visiting their dentist? Not so much. So he decided to create a spa-like ambiance at Rusnak Family Dentistry in western Henrico County.
"We want to make the experience of visiting the dentist enjoyable and reduce people's stress level. We think this is the future of dentistry," says Rusnak, a 2004 graduate of the VCU School of Dentistry.
Visitors entering Rusnak's offices on Shrader Road are greeted by the aroma of lavender, designed to replace the usual "dental smell." Huge windows allow sunlight to pour into the waiting room. A koi pond murmurs in the center of the room. Noticeably absent are any pictures of teeth, gums or dental products. Instead, the sea-green walls display oil paintings depicting pastoral scenes. Visitors can take advantage of a complimentary coffee bar in the far corner. In warmly lit exam rooms down the hall, patients lounge in chaise-style massage chairs and watch their favorite programs on mounted, flat-screen TVs.
In keeping with the wellness-based approach, Rusnak uses new technologies that are less invasive to patients. That includes sensors for bite-wing X-rays that sit on a patient's tooth, replacing the claustrophobic booths that have been used for decades. "The device is painless and is almost 100 percent more effective at finding cavities," he says.
Similarly, rather than manually checking for oral cancer, Rusnak purchased a special scope that does the job more effectively and with less discomfort for patients.
"It enables us to detect abnormal cells long before we could spot them" with a manual exam, he says.
In its broadest definition, spa dentistry uses some form of alternative therapy to replace traditional procedures. Rusnak, for example, practices "minimal sedation dentistry," to calm anxiety-ridden patients and those with a low pain threshold. Rusnak offers nitrous oxide — better known as "laughing gas" — or an oral sedative to reduce patients' fear of the dentist.
Midlothian Dental Arts is another local practice that offers a spa-like environment, including aromatherapy, neck wraps and blankets.
"The big thing is to help people overcome anxiety," says Michelle Davis, the practice's office manager for Dr. Jeryl Abbott.
In eastern Hanover County, Dr. Paul Stanovick's dental practice, located on his own farm, brings patients close to nature with exam-room windows that offer views of blooming gardens and woods, as well as metal sculptures created by the dentist himself. The waiting room also features a fireplace, and Stanovick's colorful landscape photography is displayed throughout the building.