Aromatherapy soothes and relaxes both practitioner and client.

April 1, 2002
Hygienists juggle the physical and psychological demands of providing highly skilled periodontal care while keeping clients comfortable and at ease.

Aromatherapy soothes and relaxes both practitioner and client.

by Mary Anderson, SDT, RDH

Hygienists juggle the physical and psychological demands of providing highly skilled periodontal care while keeping clients comfortable and at ease. This challenge is sometimes very difficult, but achieving it is certainly beneficial for all involved. When a client is happy, the hygienist's job becomes more enjoyable, and the employer's assessment of the hygienist's value to the practice is enhanced.

One leading cause of attrition in dental practices is a perception that the dentist and staff are not caring. It is important for staff members to do all they can to ensure clients leave the office feeling "cared for." A caring attitude creates satisfied clients, increasing trust and loyalty, word-of-mouth referrals, and acceptance of treatment plans. A caring attitude reassures anxious clients and reduces the perception of pain.

Environmental fragrancing immediately communicates a caring attitude to clients. Aromatic botanical extracts, commonly known as essential oils, are diffused in aerosol form to reach the olfactory nerve … a direct extension of the limbic system of the brain … and alter brain chemistry to produce a desired emotional/psychological effect. Years of research and clinical treatment have shown that essential oils have the ability to stimulate feelings of relaxation, confidence, and trust. Smell is the only sense that bypasses mental judgment and interpretation and goes straight to the center of emotions.

Many essential oils have sedative effects. Valerian plants, for example, were used as the chemical blueprint for Valium, the anxiety-reducing drug. Others stimulate serotonin production, a brain hormone known to increase feelings of confidence in humans. This enhanced confidence extends to items and environments infused with the aroma, and it works whether or not the smell can be consciously detected. It can assist nervous dental clients to trust in the practitioner, in the value of the treatment they are receiving, and in proposed dental treatment, which they may not fully understand and possibly fear.

These results are especially important to dental hygienists who often face time constraints that require them to sacrifice … at least temporarily … quality for comfort.

In The Fragrant Mind, Valerie Ann Worwood discusses research conducted by Dr. Alan Hirsch, the neurologic director of the Smell and Taste Research Foundation in Chicago. In his studies, Dr. Hirsch found that a pleasantly fragranced environment increased consumer confidence and consumer spending significantly.

In dentistry, we may not wish to think of treatment planning … periodontal or restorative … as "selling dentistry." However, we often are required to sell the idea of quality dental care to many clients for them to be motivated to maintain a healthy dentition. Our jobs as care providers are cer-tainly made more rewarding when clients accept our periodontal treatment planning and actively participate in their dental well-being.

Essential oils also eliminate anxiety-triggering dental odors through physiochemical means. In this respect, they are far superior to synthetic fragrances that merely interact with unpleasant smells without eliminating them, with the result often being a worse odor. In addition, the chemicals in synthetic fragrances … as well as those added to adulterated essential oils … have been shown to trigger sensitivities in asthmatics. It is wise to avoid these types of fragrances.

In our dental practice, clients frequently comment that they appreciate the fact that our office "does not smell like a dental office." We often hear new patients say that they chose our office "because you use aromatherapy."

Office members also benefit from environmental fragrancing. According to Dr. Robert Barron of Purdue University, aromas in the workplace affect the efficiency with which people perform tasks. They feel better; they project a more positive frame of mind; and they think more intuitively.

The antimicrobial properties of essential oils improve air quality while reducing the effects of "sick-building syndrome" and employee absenteeism. Tests proving the antimicrobial abilities of essential oils are numerous. For example, refer to Aromatherapy for Health Professionals, which provides details regarding:

  • The phenol co-efficient of essential oils
  • Their antiseptic effect in sewage water
  • In-vitro experiments demonstrating their effectiveness on infectious organisms in humans
  • Their effectiveness as antiviral agents
  • Their efficacy as deodorizing agents
  • Their effectiveness as immunostimulants

Aromatherapy channels are built into the air conditioning systems of hospitals and office buildings in Europe and Japan for mood elevating and mental clarity benefits, as well as the antimicrobial effects. Faith Popcorn of The Popcorn Report predicts that North America is about seven to eight years from doing the same.

The healing ability of plants is well known to modern drug companies. An estimated 25 percent of pharmaceutical components are derived directly from plant material. Examples include aspirin (from white willow bark); the heart medication digitalis (from foxglove); and the cancer treatment Taxol (from Pacific yew tree).

Be cautious, though. Widespread misuse of the term "essential oil" and the common practice of dilution, adulteration, and synthesis have led to confusion in the marketplace and derision of the very real and diverse healing abilities of these molecularly complex substances.

While a chemist can identify and copy a plant's fragrance, the remaining interworking chemical components elude chemical analysis. For example, a synthetic fragrance, such as those commonly used to perfume home, bath, and cosmetic products, has no therapeutic value. It is therefore important to purchase essential oils from reputable sources and use only as directed.

I am grateful to be a part of this emerging rediscovery of the healing power of plants. My journey of discovery in this fascinating field has truly been a joy. I wish the same for all of you who wish to enhance your life with these delightful gifts of nature.

Dentistry's sweet odors I have used essential oils for the past five years in my dental hygiene practice. Many dental practitioners have found the following synergistic essential oil blends to be particularly beneficial:
  • Confidence … Contains a combination of bergamot, neroli, grapefruit, and sweet orange. Used in a diffuser, it instills client confidence in the office, the practitioner, and the treatment.
  • Muscle Spasm Relief … Contains a combination of ginger, lemon, juniper berry, and cypress. A single drop massaged into the TMJ area reduces or eliminates joint discomfort during lengthy appointments. It works by reducing muscle spasms in the TMJ and surrounding facial muscles. It also is beneficial when applied to a practitioner's back and neck after a long workday.
  • On a Pink Cloud … Contains a combination of clary, sandalwood, spikenard, bergamot, lemon, and lavender. A single drop on a client's bib is very relaxing.
  • Headache/Migraine Assist … Contains a combination of lavender, geranium, lemon, and neroli. This is soothing for a client experiencing a stress-induced headache/migraine. Follow the instructions on the bottle for topical application.
  • Relax/Refresh … Contains a combination of grapefruit, lavender, and geranium. Used in a diffuser, it stimulates mental clarity and relaxed alertness. It is known in Great Britain as the Factory Floor blend for its ability to increase concentration and dispel tedium when performing repetitive tasks. Try placing one drop in a dental mask to overcome late afternoon weariness.
Additional resourcesRefer to the following books for more information on aromatherapy:
  • The Fragrant Pharmacy, Valerie Ann Worwood (1990). A thorough and fascinating introduction to aromatherapy by one of the world's foremost authorities.
  • The Fragrant Mind, Valerie Ann Worwood (1996). Explores the connection between mind and aroma with lots of practical suggestions for business and personal use.
  • Aromatherapy for Health Professionals, (1995). Contains many scientific references, tables, and charts.

Mary Anderson, SDT, RDH, holds three diplomas in Aroma-Genera, an advanced form of aromatherapy that was developed and taught by award-winning British aromatherapist and chair of Scientific Research IFA, Valerie Ann Worwood. Contact Anderson at Frankincense & Myrrh, an aromatherapy company at (250) 592-3321 or [email protected], or visit