Designing a dental practice that brings in the right clientele involves much more than getting the colour palette just so and choosing the right furniture. Rachel Smith reports
If you’re considering revamping your existing dental practice or are designing a brand new practice, there’s a lot to consider. Of course, clinic function should be top of the list, but you also want to ensure the design makes the best use of the space, integrates technology as efficiently as possible, and meets the needs of both staff and patients.
Architect and builder Sam Russell from Create Dental says one of the main things to consider is the area you’re trading in, and the patients you want to attract. Do you mainly see city-based executives? Young families? Tradies? “The design depends on the demographic of the patients you’re capturing,” explains Russell.
“In addition, property selection is really important, so if you’re starting from scratch and can get a space with high ceilings and natural light, especially in the waiting and treatment areas, it’s really hard to go wrong [when you get to the design stage].”
Not sure how to maximise your existing space—or perhaps need a more functional floorplan? “A good designer can really add to the quality of the space, suggest things you might not have thought through, help redesign areas and work out how to get natural light into areas that don’t necessarily have direct windows,” he adds.
Choosing a look ’n’ feel
It can be tempting to go to town on your design, but a conservative approach is usually better, advises Russell. “A lot of people walk in thinking dentists are very expensive places to begin with—and if it’s overly opulent and glitzy, that can turn some patients off. So your design doesn’t have to be necessarily over the top.”
“A lot of people walk in thinking dentists are very expensive places to begin with—and if it’s overly opulent and glitzy, that can turn some patients off.”—Sam Russell, architect/builder, Create Dental
That said, consider the service you’re providing. A high-end clinic might opt for a more minimalist aesthetic with lots of glass, wall panels and sophisticated furnishings, whereas a smaller, family-friendly practice may choose eye-catching murals, comfy lounges in colourful hues and a dedicated play area. Ideally, you want to choose a colour palette that’ll complement your logo but neutral tones will generally be okay, says Russell.
He adds a ‘day spa’ look is definitely on trend at the moment. “We’re finding a lot of dentists want those warm tones, natural materials, running water, soft music—anything that’ll relax patients before they get to the treatment room.”
Ready to revamp?
Some dentists will be keen to stay up to date, while others will feel their comfortable (if slightly dated) practice isn’t harming business. It’s a very individual thing, says Russell. “Of course, a practice has to comply with all the infection control standards whether it’s old or new—that’s number one. But you definitely don’t want anything deteriorating, or for a patient to walk into a clinical area where things are falling apart. I think that gives a really bad impression and might reflect [poorly] on the quality of dental work. Whether that’s true or not, no patient wants to walk into a dodgy-looking hospital, and the same thing applies for a dodgy-looking dental practice!”
Even if you don’t wish to do a complete refurbishment, some things to consider upgrading include advances in dental technology or digital booking systems which could boost productivity. Similarly, new ergonomic dental chairs could give a fresh feel to your treatment rooms and improve patient comfort.
“Cosmetically, you can also be quite savvy in terms of giving your practice a revamp,” adds Russell. “Most dentists don’t want downtime; they want to be open and operational—so often big structural changes in an existing practice are pretty hard to carry out. But things like swapping out the joinery, painting the walls and doing a new floor finish are relatively small fixes that can make a big difference.”
Designing a dental practice: how I did it
Erko Dental, Erskineville, NSW
When designing their practice in a terrace house in Sydney’s inner west, husband-and-wife team Dr David Leong and Dr Angela McCarthy worked with designer Anthony Poate to create something that “didn’t feel like a dental practice”. Skylights and glass walls help bring in lots of natural light, while the earthy colour palette is far from the sterile white many clinics favour. In the lobby, polished concrete, exposed bricks and a blackboard wall blend the old with the new, while a graffiti mural in the hallway by local street artist Nico echoes the funky surrounds of Erskineville and nearby Newtown. “Our demographic research didn’t play a huge role in the design,” says Dr Leong. “That said, I do think it’s helped us attract the area’s young, creative professionals—we get a lot of designers, architects, actors and musicians.”
TOP DESIGN TIP: “Do your research, check out your local neighbourhood, and try to bring a little of originality into your design. Also stick to your guns if you really want something! I regret not having had a bit more time to find more recycled materials.”
Darlinghurst Dental, Darlinghurst, NSW
Dentist Dr Frank Farrelly was no stranger to working in dark dental practices—so natural light was top of his list when designing his inner-city practice three years ago. “It took us six months to find the right place,” he explains. “We wanted an airy, light feel with lots of white, and floor-to-ceiling glass in the waiting area.” Minimalism prevails, from the high-end linoleum floorboards (chosen to meet infection control guidelines) to the crisp white and mint logo above the reception desk. A Sue Jokinen artwork (featuring the practice’s brand colours) brings a pop of colour to one wall, while striking floral displays from Pollon Flowers adorn the streamlined reception. “We’re paperless, so we have online bookings, an online shop, we do medical forms on the iPad and appointment reminders by text and email,” says Dr Farrelly. The tech-savvy vibe appeals to the practice’s younger, professional demographic, which Farrelly says is the client they were aiming for.
TOP DESIGN TIP: “Get a number of quotes. If you have different teams working on the design and fit-out, make sure they’ll work together well and are aware of dentistry regulations. And if you have a specific vision, stick with it; that’ll be the stuff you’ll be happiest with in the end.”
The White Bite, Emerald Lakes, QLD
Treatment coordinator Zoe Ball assisted with the design of The White Bite practice, which has a 25- to 40-year-old demographic. “However, we have patients of all ages enter,” she explains, “and this was key in our design: creating a modern but inviting space that was welcoming to all. It was really important that the vibe wasn’t too clinical.” They chose cooler tones, with grey to align with The White Bite branding and blue-and-white accents. The designer sourced furnishings and decor for the space, incorporating wood pieces for warmth, and slim metal accents for elegance. Ball says patients tend to like the open, uncluttered space, which has candles burning, fresh flowers and prominent reminders to follow the practice on social media. “We also get a lot of comments on the industrial-themed wallpaper we chose for the waiting room—it really stands out and adds to the perception of space.”
TOP DESIGN TIP: “Think long-term, brainstorm lots of ideas and get others involved in the design process. Don’t get carried away with over-the-top designs; sometimes less is more. A mood board is great. It’ll help you formulate a brief and plan how to incorporate it into your space.”