One of the earliest memories I have of dental offices isn’t of getting my teeth cleaned or the noises but rather that pungent smell! You know what I’m talking about. You open the door to the dental office and it hits you. It smells like some terrible combination of heavy duty cleaners, mint, and a nail salon. When you leave you feel like your clothes still smell like it. People who work at dental offices go home smelling like it every day!
What causes this smell?
Eugenol based dental products: This is the most common source of that dental office smell. Dentists use several products containing eugenol (clove oil) everyday. These include temporary filling materials, temporary cements, bases under fillings, and dry socket pastes. Eugenol works very well to calm down sensitive teeth which is why dentists continue to use it despite it’s pungent smell.
Formocresol: This one is a little more unusual. It makes everything smell like formaldehyde. That’s the same stuff they use to preserve anatomical samples or dead bodies for dissection. You’ll find this smell far more often in a pediatric dentist’s office or a root canal specialist’s office as they typically do more procedures that use it. I find this smell to be the most pungent of all the smells and seems to stick around the longest and soak into everything. My wife always comments that I smell terrible if I’ve used it that day!
Cleaning Products: Dentists use a variety of cleaning products to spray down the chairs, cabinets, and disinfect everything they use. They contribute that hospital type smell.
Acrylic: Dentists use acrylic materials for dentures as well as some temporary crowns. This has that really chemical smell very similar to a nail salon. In fact, the type of acrylic used for many dental products is the same as what is used for fake nails. This smell gives some people headaches if exposed to it for too long.
Burning teeth – Dentists drilling on teeth with not enough water can generate enough heat to cause a burning smell. This is really unpleasant but not usually too noticeable unless you’re right there.
Does every dental office have to smell like this?
Good news! No they don’t. When I first opened my own office, I had a couple of goals in mind. Make patients comfortable, treat them right, and not have have that terrible smell!
The first way we do is by only opening those materials when we absolutely have to. We close them immediately and if possible do it away from where the patients are.
The second is to cover the smell with other smells. We have scent generators throughout the office that provide a much healthier citrus type smell. Much better than the dentist office smell! I’ve also heard stories of other dentists baking cookies in their office. Personally that just sounds cruel to me!