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January 2014
Volume 35, Issue 1

Equipping the Operatory for Maximum Efficiency

Aaron Tinkle, DMD

Considering the amount of time that many dentists spend in their dental operatories, a well-designed space can be critically important to the success of the practice. To increase comfort and efficiency—and, ultimately, the quality of care provided—considerable thought and planning should be put into the design and contents of this space.

This is a day and age when technology in dentistry is increasing at a rapid pace. As these changes unfold, laying out an effective operatory requires careful consideration. It’s one thing to choose the technology and equipment that is best suited for the practice, but it must also be implemented properly and ergonomically in order to avoid production inefficiencies and such problems as repetitive-use injuries.

When building or remodeling a state-of-the-art operatory, the first thing to take into account is the space itself. In addition to the existing equipment in the room and the accompanying air/water/electrical hookups, some space should be reserved for future technology such as a CAD/CAM scanner and acquisition unit. As newer technologies become increasingly pervasive in dentistry, allotting for this growth will ensure the practice has the ability to stay “state-of-the-art” in the future.

As important as it is to have new technology to effectively treat patients, the equipment brought in to a practice should be designed with the long-term health of the person(s) who will be using it the most. Because, like many businesses, the dental office is often viewed as the dentist’s “home away from home” in which he or she spends most of his or her day, the space should be designed for maximum comfort. Lighting and ergonomics are two prime examples of this.

Ergonomically designed equipment can help improve the comfort of both the patient and the practitioner, and thereby help enable optimal care to be provided. A classic example of good ergonomics is a well-designed dental chair. An important feature is a thin yet supportive backrest that comfortably cradles the patient and allows easy clearance for the clinician’s knees. This will enable him or her to move close to the patient and be in a comfortable working position. The chair should be capable of elevating to various heights to allow the clinician—whether tall or short—to sit or stand. In addition, a swivel feature can allow the clinician to be positioned behind the patient even in a restricted space. Also, LED dental lights should be designed to offer optimum mobility while minimizing shadowing. To help reduce eye fatigue among dentists, a balance is needed between natural light from windows, overhead lights, the chair light, and even the loupe light if used.

Another convenient piece of equipment that can simplify operations is a touchpad that offers seamless control of instrumentation. Not only can a touchpad consolidate touch surfaces to improve ergonomics, but it can also help improve infection control.

The technologies and equipment used in a dental operatory should be within arm’s reach of the user, with minimal twisting and bending required to access it. Similar to how a modern manufacturing station is set up, an operatory should have all the necessary tools right at hand to reduce the fatigue of repetitive motions for workers. The design and the contents of an operatory should be planned with this in mind.

It is essential that dentists periodically bring new technology and updated equipment into the operatory. However, if all of the components do not work in harmony, the practice—and practitioner—could suffer. By keeping these suggestions in mind, dentists can utilize the new and exciting technologies that are available to them to help improve their “dental home.”

About thre Author

Aaron Tinkle, DMD
Member, Academy of General Dentistry, American Dental Association, Oregon Dental Association, Multnomah Dental Society; Private Practice, Portland, Oregon

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