Update 4/2/2012: Happy April Fools Day 2012 — Unfortunately, in-flight dentistry hasn’t quite taken off yet!
Don’t be surprised if during your next visit to the friendly skies you hear the faint whine of the dental drill. Two major airlines are poised to announce the addition of the DentAir program to their flight services. The program has been in its trial stage since January 1, 2012 and has met with such success that it is now being expanded throughout both airlines. After years of cost-cutting, many airlines are trying to woo back disgruntled fliers by offering extra in-flight services that cater to their frequent travelers.
I hate to be a naysayer, but I did have my doubts when I first heard about this program. I mean, dentistry in the air? But after discussing the idea with both patients and other dentists, I have to admit that being an aerodentist is actually something I could see myself doing after I graduate from dental school.
The program is currently offered on about 5% of domestic flights, as well as several international destinations. Patients can requests services while checking in online up to 24 hours in advance or they can request an appointment once they get to their gate. A full range of services are offered, including routine cleaning and exams, custom whitening trays, and restorations.
What Patients Are Saying About the DentAir Program
We all know how difficult it is to fit dental check-ups into our busy schedules nowadays. But with the addition of the DentAir program, people can fly where they need to — and get an exam on the way.
Kerri Zrisk, creator of the DentAir concept, explains, “Whether you are a business traveler or a retired couple vacationing around the world, you probably struggle to find the time to get to your dentist. With this program, the dentist comes to you. We realized that passengers already had time slots open in their schedules — the only problem was that they were flying on airplanes during these lulls in their day. So we started thinking, ‘How can we get the dentists to these people?’ The DentAir program naturally followed.”
Many patients expressed relief that they had access to dental professionals while traveling. After all, dental emergencies rarely occur at convenient times. Phil Mitewth, director of sales for Mardott International, said, “As a busy executive, I simply don’t have time to go to the dentist. With my busy schedule of flights, it’s easy to get my dental work done – and I have to say that there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as having a root canal over the Panama Canal.”
Passenger Joseph Miller was equally excited. “I couldn’t wait to get caps on my badly-stained two front teeth. Getting it done in the air was awesome and I would even say it was the crowning moment of my whole vacation!”
What Dentists Are Saying About the Dental Air Program
New York Dentist Dr. Mo Lerr, DDS stated, “Many patients are flying down to Mexico to get their dental work done at a fraction of the cost. By being an airplane dentist, I have some time to persuade them to get their dental work done in-country. I can even offer cheaper prices since there are no taxes in the friendly skies!”
Dr. Daryl B. Payne says, “A lot of my colleagues were skeptical at first, but I will always remember doing my first ‘mile-high’ filling. I just revved up the drill and waited. As an aerodentist, I’ve learned to just hold the drill in the mouth and let the turbulence guide me to the decay. It works every time, and I’ve never had a patient leave.”
Most dentists that were interviewed said they feel like an integral part of the flight team, despite their unique role. Dr. Timothy DeKay chimed in, “Everything has gone fairly smoothly so far. One time the pilot did tell me to lay off the suction since it was decreasing cabin pressure, but other than that we’ve had a pretty good working relationship.”
The Stewardentess: A Fulfilling Career Choice
Aerodentistry, like traditional dentistry, requires specially-trained support staff. After a recent flight, I was able to meet up with long-time Delta stewardess Meredith Russell. She returned to school last year to get her dental assisting degree and has recently been certified the first stewardentess in the nation.
In our interview she mused, “Sometimes it gets really boring during the downtime after I’ve collected the empty drink cups and pretzel bags. I felt like there was something I was missing out on as a stewardess and I wanted more out of my career. In-flight dental assisting was just a natural extension of my duty to make everyone’s flight perfect.”
The Future of Dentistry
Whether aerodentistry will really take off remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: dentists are branching out and considering unconventional treatment venues. It could be the recent economic recession or just a shift away from traditional care models, but whatever the reason, dentistry is expanding to reach more people.
“It’s hard to say what the next 5 or 10 years will bring,” says Dave Capitt, dean of Michigan State School of Dentistry, “but if you ask me, the future of dentistry is up in the air.”