Reduce your stress: dental floor plan zoning

Oct. 1, 2009
In our view, a primary indicator of a “successful” dental facility is one in which the dentist is less stressed and more productive with less effort.

by Jeff Carter, DDS, Pat Carter, IIDA, and Dave Fazio, AIA

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: office design, Dr. Jeff Carter, Pat Carter, Dave Fazio, dental floor plan.

In our view, a primary indicator of a “successful” dental facility is one in which the dentist is less stressed and more productive with less effort. Specifically, no additional “effort” is exerted due to a poorly conceived facility. Unfortunately, dentists accommodate the shortcomings of their facilities all the time. They work harder, sometimes without realizing the stress they feel is in large part because of their offices.

Jeff can attest, “It wasn't until I started working with architects and designers that I realized 75% of the stress in my dental practice was due to my office. I would venture to say 50% of it happened every time I walked by the front desk between two primary operatories every day.”

Our contention is that good design will reduce stress. And good design begins with appropriate floor plan zoning.

Architects and interior designers are generally trained to “program” a client's spatial needs into categories of spaces, or zones. Any zone is characterized by its common functions or activities, which drive the “design rationale” for how spaces are positioned within an overall given space.

Unfortunately, the functional activities defining each “zone” in a dental office are not typically well understood. The result is a floor plan with less than optimum rationale for the location, size, and adjacency of its spaces. And that affects the practice experience.

Understanding there are definitive zones in your dental office is a key to reducing your stress. It may highlight why your current office is problematic and help you avoid stress–promoting plan design solutions in the future.

Three zones

There are three zones in the dental facility ...

  1. Clinical: treatment spaces, treatment support
  2. Public: patient spaces, patient interaction areas
  3. Private: staff–only areas, tertiary “other use” spaces

Three zoning objectives

Three objectives to implement an optimum floor plan:

• First zoning objective: Segregate spaces within each dental–specific zone.

All related spaces of each zone are located together without intermixing other zone function spaces. For example, in Jeff's office, the patient toilet (public “patient space”) was located in the operatory area (clinical “treatment space”). Invariably, waiting patients would wander into the treatment area to use the toilet, which disrupted treatment activities. Result? Unrelated interruptions in clinical area causes stress.

• Second zoning objective: Separate each zone from the other.

Assuming optimum square footage, each zone's spaces should be arranged so that the transition from one zone to another is not disruptive. Otherwise, zoning “stress points” occur where nonrelated functions are too close.

Back to Jeff's office: Jeff's front desk (public “patient interaction area”) sat across from two operatories (clinical “treatment spaces”). Though separated by a corridor, in practice they were adjacent every time he walked from one operatory to another. Result? Trying to avoid transacting patients causes stress.

• Third zoning objective: Determine appropriate size and priority.

Finally, within each zone, spaces should be sized for optimum function based on the number of occupiers (patients, staff, or both), peak times, and future expansion (something often not considered).

Appropriately sized spaces should then occupy square footage based on dental priority — clinical and public areas getting “prime real estate.”If square footage is minimized, then lower priority spaces are reduced or eliminated (e.g., private zone), which leads to a less–than–optimum floor plan. Result? Private zone areas are minimized, which can add to staff/doctor stress!

It is our observation that dental–specific zoning is often misunderstood in dental floor plan layouts. When ignored, the benefits from implementing these zoning objectives are lost.

Understanding this can mean the difference between a well–designed office that helps make your dentistry easier and one that makes it even harder.

Floor plan diagram available at

Jeff Carter, DDS, Pat Carter, IIDA, and Dave Fazio, AIA, are owners of PDGFazio Design Group. Located in Austin, Texas, PDGFazio offers a full range of architectural, interior design, and consulting services to dentists nationwide. For more information, call (800) 511–7110 or visit

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