Scents and sensibility

The right aroma could mean the difference between patients making a return visit to your clinic or going elsewhere for their next treatment.

It’s easily overlooked but attention to small details, such as the aroma of your practice, has many benefits. Natasha Shaw explains why

Let me set the scene. A nervous patient walks into a dental surgery, sits for a few minutes in the waiting room that’s infused with the faint aroma of lavender, before being led into the treatment room feeling a little calmer. Such, it appears, is the power of scent.

The right aroma could mean the difference between patients making a return visit to your clinic or going elsewhere for their next treatment. In fact, Scent Australia, a provider of scent solutions for businesses, claims, “The use of scent will reduce stress, reduce cancellations and increase profitability.”

“Essential oils work on both the physiological and the psychological level. They connect to the olfactory system and can trigger many different memories or create new emotive connections,” explains Lucille Wilson of Sydney Essential Oil Company. “So, choosing an oil blend that promotes a calm state of mind could help develop a positive association with a dental visit.”

Lavender is only one scent in a whole family of aromatics that is proving to put patients at ease and even minimise feelings of pain and discomfort in dental surgeries around the globe.

“Cedarwood, chamomile, marjoram, orange and ylang-ylang are also known to help reduce tension and soothe the nerves,” says Wilson. “Each oil has a unique chemical constituent profile that offers a variety of properties such as a sedative effect, an analgesic effect or an antiseptic action. Selecting oils that offer a range of properties will achieve a synergistic result.”

Dr Dennis Teoh and his team at Dentique Dental Solutions have been using essential oils at their surgery for more than 10 years. “The clinical smell of dental clinics/hospitals is often associated with fear or worry. By eliminating these smells, people tend to feel more calm and relaxed before commencing their treatment,” explains Dentique practice manager Rae Job. “We use oil burners and offer patients refresher towels at the end of their appointment which we also infuse with scent beforehand.”

The proof is in the perfume

The Egyptians, Greeks, Indians, Romans and Chinese are known for using essential oils in the field of therapeutics as far back as 6000 years ago. But it really wasn’t until the 1980s that aromatherapy itself gained mainstream attention as natural healing practitioners became more popular and accepted around the world.

As aromatherapy is such an ancient practice, there have been numerous studies conducted on the use of scents in the medical arena. One such study of 597 adult dental patients, published in the Journal of Research in Pharmacy Practice last year, looked at the impact of lavender (an oil known for its relaxing, carminative and sedative effects) on patient anxiety. It found that lavender significantly decreased the level of anxiety in these patients, and concluded that using lavender essential oil in a dental practice would indeed
be beneficial.

A 2013 study published in Advanced Biomedical Research investigated the effect of orange essential oil on 30 children, aged six to nine, during dental treatment. The results were again conclusive, showing that the level of cortisol (stress hormone) in the children’s saliva decreased, as did the children’s pulse rates.

Researchers at Japan’s Nara Women’s University recently discovered that thyme may be the new super-essential-oil. It was found to have excellent pain-relieving properties, perhaps even more so than ibuprofen. It seems one of the constituents in thyme oil, carvacrol, inhibits a particular enzyme that is part of the body’s inflammatory process that produces pain.

Making scents

Aside from the possibility of calming and soothing your patients, scents can disguise that clinical smell of harsh detergents and chemicals. And, in their purest form, some—including tea tree oil, cinnamon bark, lemon oil, thyme oil and rosemary oil—are even known to fight bacteria.

If you want to begin imparting delicious, cleansing and calming scents into your surgery, most aromatherapy experts recommend using an electric diffuser or vaporiser, as these will release the scent consistently, without flames or messy bowls or jars of oil, and the impact is subtle. “As each person’s sensitivities can be different, this is the least invasive method of application,” says Wilson. There are many on the market—Air Aroma and Scent Australia are two Aussie companies that supply them for medical businesses.

“It would definitely be useful to have the essential oil vaporising in the waiting room so that there is an air of calm during the initial stages of the visit,” Wilson advises. “If the dentist is happy to have the oil in the consultation room, then this can also be helpful to maintain a relaxed state, but it is also important to ensure the dentist and other staff enjoy the essential oil blend as they are surrounded by it for many more hours than the client.”

Anna Mason, an aromatherapy lecturer at Sydney’s Nature Care College, recommends using more than one scent together. “Blends, such as lavender, eucalyptus and lemon, or orange, sandalwood lavender, are two blends I would use,” she says. “Some people have aversion to the scent of a single essential oil.”

Even if you’re not a great believer of aromatherapy, using essential oils in your practice may be worth a shot, even if it’s only to create a nicer ambience. Just think of how everyday people react to the heady aroma of roses, a just-peeled orange, or a bunch of freshly picked basil.

For a positive patient experience, you could start small and add a lovely lemongrass scent to refresher towels as part of your after-treatment care plan, just as Dentique Dental Solutions has, and then take note of how your patients react. Or you could position a small diffuser filled with lavender oil at the reception counter as a fragrant welcome.

You never know—your patients might turn out to be a little less anxious during their treatments, and you and your staff might discover you actually
enjoy walking into a surgery that doesn’t immediately smell of dental instrument detergent.

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