Designing a child-friendly dental practice

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The green dental chair at iKids Dental Care informed the colours used elsewhere in the practice, says Dr Tim Johnston.

Professional, contemporary, fun, welcoming—the design of a paediatric dental practice has to appeal to kids and parents on many levels. By Kerryn Ramsey

Getting the design and look of a paediatric dental practice right is a real balancing act. It needs to reflect the professionalism of the business while still appealing to kids. Colour can be successfully used to soften the surgical feel of the premises but it should be restrained and tasteful. Clean lines and durable surfaces make cleaning easier while furniture needs to be hard-wearing and comfortable. 

Converting a space

One dentist who managed to put it all together is Dr Tim Johnston, owner of iKids Dental Care in Fremantle, WA. He started putting together his practice in 2013, positioning it in a building that was a former art gallery with an attached residence. “I separated the open space into surgeries and turned the residential part of the building into my reception, waiting room and offices,” says Dr Johnston. “The surgeries were on a different level so I added a 13-metre-long access ramp. It runs down the middle of the building, separating four rooms—three surgeries and a parents’ lounge that can be turned into a fourth surgery in the future.”

One of the bathrooms stayed a bathroom and the other became the steri room. A large wardrobe was transformed into an OPG room and utility area. The waiting and reception area is clean, colourful and flooded with light.

“I want the kids to feel like they’re going into someone’s home rather than a dental practice,” says Dr Johnston. “That homey feel also indicates that a certain level of good behaviour is required. More importantly, I wanted a space where my parents feel comfortable. After all, the kids are my patients but the parents are my clients.”

Specific needs

Generally, paediatric practices need to be larger than a typical dental practice. Dr Venkatesh Bahrdwaj discovered this when setting up MacArthur Paediatric Dentistry in Camden, located in the south-west region of Sydney. 

“The more surgeries you can fit into a dental practice, the easier it is to monetise the business,” says Dr Bhardwaj. “Paediatric practices are a little different. You need space for families with multiple kids. You need space for parents to sit in the corner of the surgery. The practice has to have full disability access and fit oversized prams, strollers, change bags, nappy packs and beloved toys. Basically, you just need more space.”

Dr Bhardwaj wanted the colour palette based around the blue, purple and orange of the practice logo, but he also wanted it to look professional. “Splashes of colour can make a practice look less clinical but it shouldn’t be like walking inside a kaleidoscope,” he says. “I wanted something neutral and non-threatening.”

Professional help

Dr Bhardwaj turned to Dental Fitout, a design and construction company specialising in dental practices. They assessed the site to ensure compliance with all requirements relating to disabled access and local car parking. They then sat down with Dr Bhadwaj and worked together to design his practice.

“A paediatric clinic needs to be bright and welcoming,” says Andrew Mulroe, managing director of Dental Fitout. “The surgery should have drills, suction and other instruments carefully positioned out of sight with side or rear delivery. A television above the chair is a great addition, allowing a child to watch cartoons. The waiting room should have a toy area to take the children’s mind off the fact they are visiting the dentist.”

I want the kids to feel like they’re going into someone’s home rather than a dental practice. That homey feel also indicates that a certain level of good behaviour is required.

Dr Tim Johnston, owner, iKids Dental Care

Dr Bhardwaj sees special needs patients who are highly sensory. The sights, sounds and smells of a dental practice can be very confronting to them. To keep noise to a minimum, one of the building’s car parks was converted into a plant room so all services are outside the building.

“I have a consult room set up as a calm space where I sit down and chat to parents,” says Dr Bhardwaj. “My dental chair is bare; the delivery system is completely separate. When seeing an intimidated child, it gives me an opportunity to do a check-up with a mirror in a friendly environment.”

Floors and colours

Paediatric clinics need hard-wearing, easy-to-clean surfaces and floors. There’s going to be sticky hands, spilled drinks and unavoidable toileting accidents when kids are scared or overexcited.

Dr Johnston lucked out with the flooring in his iKids practice. His interior designer suggested polishing and sealing the existing concrete floors for a beautiful, hard-wearing finish. Dr Johnston used a colour palette of grey and white with pops of colours to keep it interesting. 

“I love A-dec equipment and chose one of their green dental chairs,” he says. “The chair informed the colour of the practice. Green is a friendly colour which works well against grey and white.”

He also designed the eye-catching reception desk that’s often referred to as the ice block. “I didn’t want a boring desk so I used patterned blue-coloured perspex. It’s lit from behind by LED lights and looks fantastic at night.”

At Macarthur Paediatric Dentistry, Dr Bhardwaj has laminate flooring with a dark wood finish. It works beautifully in a practice so full of natural light and is easy to clean when, occasionally, one of the kids goes mad with a marker pen.

“It’s happened a couple of times but the floors don’t show it at all,” he says.

Getting it right

Paediatric dental practices work well when they’re colourful but restrained. “If you make it look like a zoo or a circus, that’s how it ends up,” says Dr Johnston. “It’s important to remember your practice is a business and a certain level of behaviour is expected from the kids. They can have fun but it’s not a playground.”

When designing and setting up a paediatric dental clinic, Andrew Mulroe has some valuable advice. “Use a professional,” he says. “It should certainly have a kid-friendly look but it’s still a dental practice. The design has to account for infection control, radiation control and body protection. It needs to comply with the BCA building code of Australia and with local council regulations. It must also have full disability access. Kids’ dentistry is a serious business.” 

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