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What Music Works Best in a Dentist Office?


Whether it’s the waiting room or the dental operating area, “background music” can be a difference-maker in terms of the overall experience for patients. The fact is, most patients come in with a certain level of apprehension or nervousness and anything to make the atmosphere more pleasant will benefit everyone involved.

“The power of music is highly underrated in today’s dental offices,” said Dave Rahn, founder of Smile Radio, a music consulting service geared toward dental offices. “Music affects your patients, your team members, and more importantly, your daily productivity.  With the numerous choices of music options out there, it can be very overwhelming to decide what the best option is to take your office to the next level.”

Some dentists have set systems that allow each patient to plug in ear buds and enjoy their own selections while they are being worked on, but the vast majority uses the radio.

Radio Daze
For the purposes of this blog, we conducted an informal survey of a dozen dentists to get their opinions on the topic.  Of the 12, 9 are using radio broadcasts to provide the background sounds of their office.  Two of the others are using iTunes playlists either designed by themselves or a staff member and the 12th dentist surveyed uses an old-fashioned CD player (and he admitted that it’s time to change – the dozen or so CDs in the office are starting to drive the staff crazy).

Of the dentists who use the radio, here’s the breakdown on what kind of broadcast they tap into:

4 – “Easy Listening” or “Mellow Contemporary”

2 – “Oldies”

1 – “Classical”

1 – “Classic Rock”

1 – Local News

Putting the iPod to Work
Davis Minerva, who is a Hawaii-based management consultant and patient-relations specialist for medical and dental offices, argues that while radio is in many ways the easiest option and is free of charge, it carries significant drawbacks. 

“Radio stations have very limited playlists,” said Minerva,” which leads to redundancy fatigue for the practice staff who will get tired of hearing the same 15-20 songs that a station will have on heavy rotation at any given time.  Worse than that is the commercials.  It’s always a counter-productive scenario for a dentist’s brand to be piping commercials for other businesses through the ceiling while patients are there being worked on. Commercials do nothing to ease anxiety, which is the main reason to have music in the first place, and they are more annoying than they are distracting for most people.”    

Minerva says he has observed that the most effective choices for dental offices are paid streaming music services that have soothing, widely appealing song selections without commercial breaks, or iPod-driven playlists designed by the dentists to contain songs that the vast majority will find enjoyable, or at least inoffensive.”

Dental Office Hit Parade
“Because no two people have the exact same music taste it’s always hard to choose the perfect playlist that will cast the widest net in terms of effectiveness,” said Willard Jacobus, a working DJ and music atmosphere consultant for businesses. “In the case of dentistry, you’re looking to put nervous people’s minds at ease. In my experience, ‘easy listening’ music, also called ‘elevator music’ by many, is a popular choice, but studies have shown it can be grating and annoying to many in this day and age. I find that timeless, popular favorites tend to be well received by people of most ages. You probably don’t want One Direction or Justin Bieber, because the two or three pre-teen patients that love it will be happy while everyone else will be annoyed. So you have to steer in the direction of music that may not be everyone’s favorite, but it won’t be as polarizing as a teeny-bopper pop number or a hard rock song.”

“Elevator music or soft-jazzy ‘muzak’ can make patients feel tired or create an unwelcome feeling of sterility,” added Jacobus.  “You'll also want to stay away from edgy music like hard rock or hip-hop that might contain content offensive to some families. Instead, go with music your guests are likely to know, or songs that, even if they don’t know them, will be pleasing to the vast majority of listeners. The Beatles, for example, are pretty much appreciated by people of all ages – and even if your patient is not a Beatle fan, per se, having a Beatle song in the background will not be an annoyance – and for many it will stir up feelings of joy, recognition or good memories.”

Jacobus outlines ten examples of songs that are “harmless, enjoyable tunes” that also have consistently been well received in dental offices he has worked with. In no particular order, they are:

1) “In My Life” – The Beatles

2) “Three Little Birds” – Bob Marley

3) “Let’s Stay Together” – Al Green

4) “1 2 3 4” - Feist

5) “Tempted” - Squeeze

6) “Peaceful Easy Feeling” – The Eagles

7) “Never Going back again” – Fleetwood Mac

8) “Constellations “ – Jack Johnson

9) “I’m Yours” – Jason Mraz

10) “Moonshadow” – Cat Stevens

Music’s Effects on the Minds of Your Patients
What is it about music like this that actually helps a dental patient relax and makes the overall experience better than it would be without the music?

Music has many relaxation benefits and by changing the moods it can have a positive influence on a dental patient.

“The latest research confirms that music bypasses your conscious mind,” explained Sheila Dobbs, Ph.D., a cognitive psychologist that recommends music therapy regularly for patients struggling with panic-based disorders, anxiety and nervousness.  “Music goes directly to and stimulates the part of the brain that controls your emotions and vital pulses such as the heart and respiratory rates, as well as blood pressure. Music that is played at sixty beats or less per minute has been shown to slow down metabolic responses, which not only decreases a patient’s stress level, but also increases the amount of chemical endorphins the brain releases, leading to improvement of mood and enhanced relaxation.”

Dr. Dobbs also told us about one recent review of studies being developed at Stanford University that is looking at the effect of music on all types of pain and while the review has not yet been completed, preliminary results are indicating a profoundly positive effect.

According to Dr. Dobbs, having the right kind of music playing in your office – meaning music that is relaxing but also gently stimulating in a positive way, can lead to additional benefits that will enhance the dentist-patient relationship as well, including:

  • More compliant patients;
  • Improved communication between patient, dentist and staff;
  • Improved memory retention of dental recommendations and patient instruction/education; and
  • Overall, a more positive outlook of the dental practice as a whole by the patient, leading to a longer-term relationship and more referrals. 

Warm Up in the Waiting Room
And what about the waiting room? Many dentist offices that actually do use music in the operating and examination areas actually withhold from using any sound at all in the waiting room. This may be a mistake.

Debra Christiansen, LPC, a licensed therapist who works with music as a treatment for anxiety, reports “silence can be extremely off-putting for patients, especially those who are already anxious about a trip to the dentist. Nevertheless, many waiting rooms remain steadfastly and stiflingly quiet. Some dentists worry that contemporary music will strike patients as unprofessional or too casual for a medical office. The opposite is actually the case! Studies have shown that 86% of patients report that waiting room music makes them feel more relaxed, while 75% go on to say that they feel both happier and less nervous with music playing. A whopping 80% actually believe their wait went by faster when they heard music.”

In short, the potentially positive effects the right music selections can have on your patients can’t be ignored.

Do you use music in your practice?  If so, what are some of the songs that you have found work best in your practice?


Thanks for posting this. Very enjoyable read. Good research and food for thought. Kudos.
Posted @ Tuesday, February 25, 2014 1:42 PM by Dr. Masudi
I first observed the power of music because I love it myself and play African Drums just to give a little background. And I believe it was around 1999 or 2000 when as an associate I would ask what they wanted to hear and had a diverse collection of cd's. It had such a great impact I tried to carry it to my next job but the owners were not as receptive and found this out after I left some cd's in the disc changer that the owner did not appreciate but that incident also through feedback from staff and patients how much it changed the atmosphere in the office. So now I use Pandora, I tunes and always ask what the patient would like to hear and it allows for a diverse listening experience for the patient so much so that when there is no music ie computers are down, patients ask me what is wrong. 
Posted @ Wednesday, March 05, 2014 12:26 PM by Eric T. Washington, D.D.S.
In our office the most frequent comment from our patients is that "I really like your music". I must admit that the complement should go to Pandora, since we listen to Pandora stations all day long. Our favorite station: Louis Armstrong Radio. Its a big hit with our patients too.
Posted @ Friday, March 07, 2014 1:59 PM by Lawrence Spindel DDS
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