The operatory flooring dilemma

Oct. 1, 2010
"What is the best flooring for my operatories?"

Jeff Carter, DDS, and Pat Carter, IIDA

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"What is the best flooring for my operatories?"

The best flooring is that which delivers to your top design criteria.

The range of flooring today is more extensive, high performing, and targeted to specific performance characteristics. Our top dental operatory flooring criteria include:

Durability – A product's life cycle or anticipated years of performance based on your definable use
Maintenance – Upkeep requirements for optimum look and performance (LOW for vacuum and damp mop; HIGH for applied finishes and special buffing machines.)
Esthetics – A product's perceived visual appeal
Cost – Perceived value for the dollar invested
Sound control – Ability for product to affect sound

Your selection criteria are those things you consider most to least important about a flooring product. The product that delivers to your highest priorities is your best flooring choice. Here is a review of our top picks:

CARPETING – Chosen for sound control and esthetics

Durability – GOOD. For the best performance, look for products that are 28 to 36 oz. face weight, and branded 6,6 nylons with loop or tufted/loop construction
Maintenance – LOW. Vacuum daily with wet extraction cleaning as needed
Esthetics – EXCELLENT. Wide range of patterns, colors
Cost – Wide range of costs, $18 to $35/sq. yard, with cost notably a factor of esthetic appearance
Sound control – EXCELLENT

DENTAL CONSIDERATION: Regular vacuuming is very important for long life performance. Carpet fibers and backings should be resistant to microbial growth. Issues for the pediatric dentist or oral surgeon include spills and clean up.

VINYL - Luxury tiles and planks chosen for performance and esthetics

Durability – HIGH
Maintenance – LOW. Vacuum/damp mop, NO sealer or wax for long-term optimal appearance
Esthetics - Wide range of pattern choices, colors, sizes.
Sound control - Not the best choice if sound is a major concern

DENTAL CONSIDERATION: This product option has expanded tremendously in the last few years, including no finish to apply and maintain, technologically advanced wearing surfaces, great esthetics, and the flexibility of replacement.

LINOLEUM – The green option. Chosen for its inherent environmentally friendly content and properties

Durability - HIGH
Maintenance - HIGH. Initial sealer applied at installation, and regular spray buffing recommended for optimum performance and appearance
Esthetics – Wide range of colors, sizes (sheet goods and tiles), and unique textural patterns
Cost – Pricing is becoming competitive with comparable commercial sheet vinyl products
Sound control – Comparable to vinyl, not the best choice if sound is a priority concern

A short list of flooring options that are viable but challenged by some dental use shortcomings include:

SHEET VINYL – A familiar product that has been available for years in hospitals with modest improvements in esthetics. The familiar aggregate pattern and installation seams promote an institutional esthetic, yet is viable based on its proven wear and performance.

ACRYLIC IMPREGNATED HARDWOOD – This product was designed for heavy foot traffic applications. Operatory wear, however, is more about stool casters, spills, and cleanup than traffic wear.

LAMINATE PINK FLOORING – Arguably, this product is expanding and readily available at a lower cost. Esthetics are compromised by the sheen of the laminate finish, with sound control more an issue than its vinyl flooring counterparts.

VINYL COMPOSITE TILE (VCT) – This is the least expensive 12"x12" tile to purchase and the most expensive to maintain. The cost in time to wax and buff this product to optimum finish far exceeds the maintenance expectations for most dentists, no matter the cost savings initially.

Flooring products deliver to specific expectations and target markets. Understanding that your dental operatory exceeds most residential product performance limits, has differing wear issues from general commercial spaces, yet doesn't require products geared to hospital operating theatres is key to choosing the best dental operatory flooring product.

Jeff Carter, DDS, and Pat Carter, IIDA, are owners of PDG- Practice Design Group. Located in Buda, Texas, PDG offers a full range of design and consulting services to dentists nationwide. For information, call (800) 511-7110 or visit

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