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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.


    Room to work

    Another design option is to make the overall operatory bigger and a little more private.

    “People in the last decade or so have kind of moved away from that to favor openness and easy access in and out,” Stephane Leduc, product marketing manager for treatment centers, cabinetry and instruments at Dentsply Sirona, says. “But I think a more private operatory is something that a lot of doctors are actually going back to, to remove a lot of the distractions.”

    “Bigger is better these days,” Dr. David Rice, DDS, a general dentist in Amherst, New York, and founder of IgniteDDS.com, observes. “There are so many technologies that are mobile, and getting them in and out of a treatment room so you don’t have to buy multiple pieces of that technology is helpful.”

    Further, he notes that having extra room is necessary for patient access.

    “The population of the people that we are treating is aging,” Dr. Rice says. “For the next 10 to 15 years in dentistry, we are going to have a population of patients that are older. People are living longer, and having that extra space to get wheelchairs or walkers in it out is going to be very helpful.”

    Allocating where space is used is an important consideration when designing a practice.

    “This is where [dentists] make all their money,” Leduc says. “Sometimes I think they overlook that fact. They may try and save space, and they cut a few square feet in the operatory to put a little bit more in the waiting room, but they don’t make any money when the patient is waiting. Realize what is going to be the patient’s experience and what is going to be your experience.”


    How the room, equipment and supplies are laid out matter, as well. Placing equipment in easy-to-reach locations will reduce wear and tear on the practitioner’s body.

    “My preference is for a thing called ‘split delivery’,” Dr. Carter says. “The doctor’s module is attached to the base of the chair and it’s a left-right unit, but it swivels around the chair for whoever needs it. It holds your handpieces, air, water. You can reach forward, and you deliver it to the patient’s oral cavity.”

    More from the author: Form and a lot of function

    Another version of that placement is on the 12 o’clock cabinet and it is called “dual function rear delivery.”

    “Some people like that because the patient can’t see it,” Dr. Carter says. “It’s off the chair, it unclutters the chair and it looks more inviting. Almost all pediatric dentists don’t want a chair mount delivery system because the kids will be grabbing stuff and wondering what it does.”

    Righties and lefties

    Another consideration is whether the room can be configured to accommodate right-handed practitioners as well as left-handed ones.

    “Rear delivery systems, from an ergonomic standpoint, are nice because, whether you’re right-handed or left-handed, everything is easy,” Dr. Rice observes. “The patient chair is simply the patient chair, everything else functions behind them, so rear delivery makes everything work better.”

    “We like to make the rooms mirror image, ambidextrous,” Dr. Carter says. “Because 20 percent of the population is left-handed, we don’t want to eliminate one-fifth of the people who may work in the office. The tough one is when a doctor is left-handed and everybody else is right-handed. It just puts more emphasis on that. It’s next to impossible for a left-handed person to work ergonomically in what’s really a right-handed only operatory.”

    When selecting equipment, Dr. Carter recommends looking for designs that can adjust to both.

    “For instance, Midmark has a left-right option on every major piece of dental equipment that goes in a treatment room,” Dr. Carter says.

    Being able to tweak a room is not only necessary to accommodate righties or lefties. Everyone is different, so rooms should be easily adjustable, too.

    “A little bit of flexibility is always good, because no two people are always the same,” Leduc says. “We’re not the same height, we don’t have the same leg lengths or torsos, so everything is going to be different. You can have two people that are the exact same height, but have different arm lengths or leg lengths, and the way they work will differ. The same thing can be said for patients. While they can be similar, the practitioner will always have to adapt to all the positions that change between each situation.”

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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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