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    How better dental office design can prolong your career

    Not being mindful of ergonomics can lead to an unwanted, early retirement.

    Chronic pain is a pervasive problem for dental practitioners. Chiropractor Timothy Caruso estimates that as many as 60 percent of dentists report back pain, while 85 percent report neck pain. As many at 69 percent of hygienists report hand and wrist pain. As such, it is especially important to be mindful of ergonomics, because if not observed, it can lead to an unwanted, early retirement.

    Good ergonomics can help stave off those pains, but require good planning and good site and operatory design.

    Operatory access

    The design and layout of your operatories is an important consideration, starting with how you come into the room. It seems like an insignificant detail, but it matters.

    “If you’re going in a room and have to circulate around the chair and take extra steps and it’s cumbersome and difficult to get you and the patient in and out, that impacts your ability to succeed or produce,” Dr. Jeffrey Carter, DDS, says.

    Related reading: Combining equipment and ergonomics to enhance the patient experience

    Dr. Carter is co-owner of the Practice Design Group, based in Austin, Texas. PDG specializes in providing architectural, interior design and equipment, and technology integration services to dentists nationwide. PDG also works with Midmark Dental on its ImpactDesign educational courses and hands-on consulting opportunities.

    The most efficient design, Dr. Carter notes, is the dual-head entry design. In this layout, at the head of the treatment room (near the head of the patient chair) are two openings—the doctor enters on one side, the assistant on the other.

    “It’s most efficient if each person entering the room has their own opening,” Dr. Carter says. “Behind the head of the patient you would have the 12 o’clock cabinet abutted up against the wall in that scenario, because you’re creating the shortest travel patterns for the doctor and assistant. To enter the room and get to their stools is, at most, three or four feet.”

    By comparison, an operatory with a single door adds extra travel for the doctor and assistant. They might have to walk 8 or 9 extra feet—or even more if they have to walk around the patient chair. Nine feet may not sound like a lot, but that extra distance adds up.

    “If you add that distance up over the course of a year, the more inefficient ways to get into the operatories adds miles to your ability to get in and out of the operatory,” Dr. Carter says. “So you’re wasting time walking in a circuitous pathway with a poorly conceived access opening to an operatory.”

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    Robert Elsenpeter
    Robert Elsenpeter is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Dental Products Report and Digital Esthetics. He is also the author ...


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