Memorial Park Dental Spa's waiting room

Memorial Park Dental Spa is not your typical dentist’s office. There’s the waiting room—with its plush seating and two dangling chandeliers—that is more chic than clinical. And then there’s the fact that while one patient is getting a filling, another might be in the middle of a hot stone massage.

Yes, this practice takes the “spa” part of its name seriously: After buying the practice on Washington Avenue in 2006, dentist Nishano Thomas installed a masseuse. The current therapist, who previously worked at Equinox, offers a full menu of à la carte treatments—from prenatal to deep-tissue to Swedish massage—a few days a week in a private space right across from the exam rooms. New patients earn a free massage, as do those who commit to the recommended twice-yearly dental check-ups.

It’s one way to temper anxiety historically associated with visits to the dentist, and an incentive for people to take care of their teeth. The masseuse also offers in-chair treatments, like peppermint reflexology or a river stone foot massage, for $25 during dental appointments. “We want them in, we want them relaxed, and we want to make sure their teeth are in good health,” says office manager Vincent Varghese.

While the massage approach might be unconventional, the concept of quelling patient anxiety is not—for years dentists have appealed to the estimated 30 to 40 million Americans who experience dental phobia via methods like ceiling-mounted TV screens or even nitrous oxide (Memorial Park offers both, by the way).

“We wanted to have an alternative means of calming the patient down,” Varghese says. “I think we were early progenitors of that stuff, but you’ve seen the evolution over time across health care in general, where it’s become more patient-focused and patient-driven.”

At Memorial Park, being patient-driven also means offering Saturday appointments and otherwise extended hours—as early as 7 a.m. and as late as 7 p.m. on some days—which Varghese says helps the practice maintain a loyal patient base. Some commute in from the suburbs just for their appointments with one of the practice’s four dentists, including C.R. Hoopingarner, considered a preeminent expert on TMJ.

Consider the other perks, like online scheduling, cozy blankets, and a post-exam Starbucks order (gratis), and it all adds up: Memorial Park has more than 800 Google and Yelp reviews, the majority of them five stars, which is crucial for a practice—and an industry—reliant on word-of-mouth marketing (pun intended).

“No one’s going around saying, ‘I had the best dentist experience ever,’” Varghese says. “But what will happen is someone is looking for a dentist, and then our name comes to the top.”

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