Why Do Dental Offices Smell So Clean?

Hate the sterile smell of your dentist's office? Don't! It 's a good sign!

Hate the sterile smell of your dentist’s office? Don’t! It’s a good sign! Stock photo courtesy of DDCO.

Fresh cut grass and springtime. Burning wood and summer camp. Mothballs and your great-grandmother. Certain scents seem to evoke strong emotional memories — a phenomenon psychologists have long referred to as the “Proust effect” after the writer Marcel Proust, who first described the connection between scent and recollection.

When you think of your last visit to the dentist, the first thing that might come to your mind is the unnaturally clean smell. In fact, that clean smell has been identified as one of the most distinctive features of a dental office. Studies indicate this eugeonal odor may be a big turn-off — even a phobia — for many dental patients. Understanding the three most common sources of the antiseptic smell may help people overcome the fear of the memories it conjures.

Dental Products
Some of the products used in dentistry can be pretty smelly. An example is acrylic, which is used to construct dentures. Another is eugenol, aka clove oil, which is used in most dental fillings. It may come as little surprise that clove oil is one of the most common odors in dental offices. Disinfectants used during dental procedures can also give you that antiseptic whiff in a dental office. During certain procedures, bleach is used, which also has a really strong smell.

Infection-Control Products
Dental surgeons have to use a number of disinfectants and infection-control procedures that have strong smells.  Examples of such products are antibacterial soaps, disinfection wipes and even gloves. Sterilization of dental instruments as well as glutaraldehyde, a chemical used to clean products that cannot be heat-sterilized, also generate an antiseptic smell.

Dental Procedures
Remember that smell you get when you are having your teeth drilled for a filling, crown or root canal? Well, that is another common odor in dental offices. Some people describe it as the smell of “tooth dust.” Most dentists successfully reduce this smell by using lots of water during the procedure and having their dental assistants hold the suction as close to the tooth as possible.

While there is no way to completely avoid these super-clean scents at your next dental appointment, try to keep in mind that they signify a clean, sterile environment. And rest easy knowing that many dental offices have even started using aromatic products to combat it and give your olfactory senses a more enjoyable dental experience.

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One Response to “Why Do Dental Offices Smell So Clean?”

  1. Robin Khan, DDS →
    09/11/2013 at 11:21 am #

    Really good article. There are lots of patients who are adverse to the smells of a dental office. I see this as a good topic to discuss with new patients. “Do you have a memory of a certain smell from your previous dentist? What does it remind you of?” and then proceed to discuss many of the details that are mentioned in this article.

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