Time for a virtual filling: Mmmm, a lie down, the aroma of essential oils. Surely this can't be . . . the dentist's? Emma Cook reports

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Ashoal of tropical fish flits across a tiny screen two inches from your eyes. Lying supine, your head sinks back further into the sofa. The air is filled with the scent of aromatic oils and you relax to the ambient soundscape of whale noises on your headphones. Mouth wide open, all you can taste is strawberry on your tongue. Is this a post-rave chill-out room or the latest New Age therapy? No, it is a regular check-up at The Dental Practice in Glasgow.

The Dental Practice is to the average dental surgery what Kubrick's 2001 was to sci-film. Gone forever are the Fifties furniture, the dated dog-eared magazines, the smell of antiseptic and anxiety. 'I didn't want it to look like a cross between a kitchen and a torture chamber,' explains W Lloyd Jerome, the dental surgeon who set up the practice almost three months ago.

His aim is to 'take dentistry and put it in a new context' - a 21st-century one that is essentially relaxing and tranquil. Instead of a sinister chair, patients can lie on a violet chaise longue during the check-up, diverted by virtual-reality visuals and Brian Eno music. To complete the image, Mr Jerome, 33, has dispensed with the ubiquitous white dental coat. His is the jazz aficionado look: baggy cords, black polo and round designer glasses.

Anything that symbolises a conventional surgery is disposed of or discreetly hidden. Chrome implements are kept in a row of knee-high drawers in pastel shades. 'The pain children experience at the dentist is associated with their surroundings,' he explains. 'Sound is a powerful anchor - guaranteed to take you straight back to your childhood.' Which is why his state-of-the-art drill is almost silent. All you'll hear when it's buried in your molars is the gentle plink-plonk of The Orb's 'Little Fluffy Clouds'.

Rather than the usual view of a dentist's nasal passages from below, Mr Jerome provides a more interesting spectacle: a virtual-reality tour around your own mouth. Wearing wraparound goggles, patients can see their cavities and recesses on a screen the size of a credit card. The images are taken by a camera contained in a small silver tube with which Mr Jerome probes the mouth during a check-up.

If the sight of your own dental plaque is too grim, the screen can show videos. Patients can relax to David Attenborough's Life On Earth or a film of tropical fish. 'As long as the process itself is painless, visiting the dentist can be a pleasant experience - like being at the cinema,' says Mr Jerome.

The surgery-cum-leisure complex theme continues into the waiting room. The lofty white space is used by, Stephen Duffy, the practice manager to promote local artists. 'People can be confused,' he admits. 'They think it strange to combine art and dentistry.'

The room is dominated by a 10-sided 6ft-high perspex booth with water bubbling up the sides. Two patients watch it uneasily. Above them is a set of black and white photographs of eyes and feet entitled, 'Our body is a machine for living'. Swathes of white muslin hang from the ceiling. Except for the array of dental floss, mouthwash and toothbrushes on sale near the reception desk, the scene resembles a Manhattan art gallery.

There are none of the distractions of a standard waiting room - copies of Good Housekeeping circa 1975, crying toddlers and miserable faces - mainly because patients seldom wait long for an appointment. Mr Jerome treats no more than eight people a day and spends, on average, more than an hour with each one. Such an efficient service means the place looks pristine and virtually empty.

The two patients stare vacantly at the water installation. Ness Bell, 63, is here for the first time with her daughter Lorraine. 'We don't know exactly what it is, but it looks very peaceful,' she says hesitantly. The room echoes with the gentle chants of Gregorian monks from the CD player.

Despite the soothing environment, Mrs Ness is still anxious. Her filling fell out yesterday and she has just left her last dentist after 20 years.

'I'm terrified of trying a new one,' she admits. It's her first visit to Mr Jerome's surgery. 'I don't know what this place involves. It might be a bit over the top for me,' she says glancing through his price list.

The practice is private with one NHS day a week (starting this Friday). His price list reads like a brochure for an exclusive health farm. An initial full case assessment - including gum charts and X-rays - costs pounds 120.

Root treatment ranges from pounds 100 to pounds 300. Optional extras include a foot massage for pounds 15, relaxation therapy and hypnotherapy for pounds 30.

The cost, says Mr Jerome, is no more shocking than a trip to the hairdresser and, cosmetically, just as essential. 'I find it strange that people spend so much on, say, expensive clothes but when they open their mouth it looks like an absolute disaster.'

But does paying for soothing surroundings make the prospect of a tooth extraction less frightening? 'Nobody could ever say the dental surgery is pleasant place to be, whatever it looks like,' says 36-year-old Leigh Ferguson, a hairdresser and regular patient. 'But it helps to know you can fall into a deeply soporific state.'

According to Mr Jerome, dento-phobia is caused by the patient's dread of losing control in hostile surroundings. Often we have no choice but to submit to the dentist's will: injections, extractions, fillings or worse.

But at least, he argues, The Dental Practice hands back some power to the patients. When Leigh had two fillings she brought her own ambient dub music and chose the film. 'I felt relaxed to the point of trance and just didn't want to come out of it.'

Mr Jerome hopes that one day dental treatment will be enjoyed (by those who can afford it, of course) as a form of relaxation along with massage and other New Age therapies. 'One of the main philosophies of this practice is to teach people that dentistry is therapeutic not simply masochistic.'

(Photograph omitted)

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