Getting Started: Planning Your Operatory

Operatory Planning

Your own operatory. What does it look like? Maybe you’ve already daydreamed about it: the furniture and equipment you want, the color scheme, the layouts you’ve practiced in that you liked—and the ones you didn’t. Or maybe you’ve been so busy learning about dentistry that you’ve saved envisioning the future for when it gets closer to reality.


Either way, if you are considering opening your own practice, operatory planning will be a big part of the process. And it can be exciting! Of course, it will also affect how you and your team do business for a long time, so it’s important to make sure that your decisions are based on objective factors as much as personal preference. As you create your vision of the ideal practice, it’s worth keeping 3 questions in mind:


    • Is the layout functional and efficient?
    • Can my patients be comfortable in this space?
    • Will my team and I want to work here every day?

Making the Layout Work for You

Chair time is always at a premium, and a well-planned operatory will help keep your practice at maximum productivity. With that in mind, purpose, accessibility, and efficiency are prime considerations in any design plans.



First and foremost, what is the main function of the room? Is it hygiene, restorative procedures, orthodontics…? This will drive not only the choice of equipment needed, but also the size and layout of the space. For example, an open plan may be suitable for orthodontics, but lacks the privacy necessary for other treatments.



How easy is it for patients and team members to enter and exit the room, and how much movement is required for instrument delivery and other procedures once the patient is in the chair? For peak efficiency, the less need to move around the operatory for standard procedures, the better. When thinking about accessibility, state and federal regulations such as the Americans with Disabilities Act also come into play.



Although each operatory may have its own primary function, a consistent, simple basic layout improves workflow. Keeping things like sink and cabinet placement the same from room to room helps simplify training, reduces confusion, and allows for smoother care delivery, which not only saves time, but promotes patients’ confidence in your professionalism.

Welcoming Patients

So many patients walk in the door already stressed about being in a dentist’s office that minimizing the anxiety created by the operatory environment is key to providing an experience that will improve your retention rate. Choice of colors and features such as lighting or music can help, but so can good equipment and design planning. Clutter (e.g., visible cables) and a sense of being enclosed—for example, by chair arms—can add to subconscious stress, and today’s patients are accustomed to a more open, modern look and feel. At the same time, a room that comes across as stark can be intimidating. A space that is clean yet inviting will be one that appeals to patients—not to mention one that will be more pleasant to work in every day!

Supporting Your Team

Patient comfort is important, but most patients only visit twice a year. You and your team, however, will have to sit in this operatory every working day. You, therefore, owe it to everyone involved to ensure that the design promotes good ergonomics and flexibility for all types of working styles, as well as a relaxing atmosphere. Modular systems and assistant carts may be useful solutions, particularly when it comes to making sure that everything is convenient for both left- and right-handed team members. Consulting with your team members on equipment decisions will improve the odds that your investment will meet everyone’s needs—both now and in the future.

Where to Start

Obviously, there’s a lot to think about, but you don’t have to come up with all your own ideas from scratch. From professional advice to Pinterest—yes, there are dental office designs on Pinterest—there are plenty of sources of inspiration. Henry Schein has an experienced team of designers and equipment and technology specialists who take a personalized approach to meet the unique needs of any practice. Check out some of their work at the Henry Schein Dental Integrated Design Studio.



Dental shows and showrooms also give you the opportunity to see whether the equipment you’ve been researching really meets your needs and style, or whether an alternative is a better choice. Architects specializing in dental offices can show you the latest trends, and equipment supply representatives can provide insight based on their experience with similar setups.

Have Fun!

With all the practical aspects to consider, don’t forget to allow yourself a personal touch. It’s your office, after all. Decorations that reflect your personal interests will not only keep you happy in your space, but can also serve as conversation starters with patients. You’ve worked hard to get here—enjoy the achievement!

Behind the Scenes

The operatory is where the magic happens, but the show can’t go on without the rest of the practice running smoothly. A few other things to keep in mind as you plan your new office include:

Traffic Flow

How quickly and easily can team members get where they need to go? One potential pain point in this regard is sterilization—where to locate the equipment for maximum efficiency in processing, storing, and collecting instruments for use.

Total Equipment Cost

Sometimes what looks like a bargain up front comes with add-on costs down the road—upgrades, repairs, and so on. If equipment needs frequent service, it will affect your practice, so consulting with technicians on what they find to be most reliable may save you money in the long run, even if it costs more to start with.

Looking Ahead

You might plan the perfect office for where you are now in your dental career, but what happens in 5 years, when you want to grow? Building in extra space now leaves you more options for the future—and leasing it out in the meantime can keep it profitable.