More about custom cabinetry vs. dental furniture

Sept. 1, 2010
This is the second in a series of articles on the costs and benefits of dental furniture vs. custom cabinetry solutions.

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

This is the second in a series of articles on the costs and benefits of dental furniture vs. custom cabinetry solutions. Remember the expansive manufactured cabinetry systems popularized in the 1960s and 1970s by DentalEZ, Pelton and Crane, and others? (See the Executive Style Unit photo at These massive units often consumed the entire wall behind the head of the reclined patient. Typical units integrated two sinks, a fixed dual-function delivery unit, and a myriad of tiny drawers and cabinet doors. To access the system features, one manufacturer paired the "Executive" cabinetry unit with a unique traversing dental patient chair appropriately named the "Chairman."

The tiny "doll house" drawers were designed to accommodate a proliferation of hand instruments associated with amalgams, composites, and even gold foils. Chisels, margin trimmers, burnishers, carvers, pluggers, burs, and more could be neatly organized and easily accessed.

What happened to these massive 12 o’clock units? A couple of things contributed to their demise. Limited configuration options beyond the basic unit, and Dr. Jim Pride began lecturing on design principles for dental treatment efficiency.

An infamous moment in dental design history occurred when Dr. Jim pronounced at a national meeting that a $1,500 dual-function cart, instrument tray, and materials tub could provide the same function as the $25,000 cabinetry systems of the day. Numerous large equipment orders were cancelled immediately following the presentation.

More stringent infection-control standards dictated transferring invasive instrument storage to dedicated sterilization areas, thus eliminating the need for tiny drawers and intricate storage compartments. The onset of the Americans with Disabilities Act clearance standards and dental design advancements tended to promote operatory configurations with dual entries at the head end of the operatory vs. foot or side entry options. This new operatory design, often called the "Pride Concept," was streamlined and ergonomically functional. (See the Pride Custom Operatory photo at

This concept was an excellent design solution for 20 years. Then, similar to the "forces of change" that led to the demise of the large 12 o’clock units, operatory design principles were once again dramatically impacted by multiple factors:

The incredible advancements in dental technology. It was challenging to integrate computers, monitors, inputting devices, and other technology peripherals interfacing with sophisticated digital networks.

Increased use of infection-control barriers in the operatories became problematic. How can you prevent cross-contamination between patients and still efficiently dispense gloves, masks, barrier sleeves, C-fold towels, etc., within a minimalist operatory design?

New HIPAA regulations generated concerns over sound transmission between operatories and patient privacy.

Elimination of "hard-plumbed" water lines to delivery units assisted in the prevention of dental unit water line contamination. This elimination also required use of bottled water containers and new water line decontamination protocols. Refilling water bottles daily can be an unwelcome task in many operatory configurations.

The following factors, coupled with manufacturers’ diligence in improving their product lines, helped conceive a new generation of dental furniture with improved functional benefits. (See the Dental Furniture photo at

■ Precision and durable connections to utilities and mounting plates for delivery units.

Modular design options to customize furniture unit configurations based on doctors’ programming needs. For example, 12 o’clock dental furniture units are a composite assembly of up to nine component modules. Each module offers multiple configuration options.

Replacement options for damaged or worn modular components fabricated by the manufacturer to "match" the existing dental furniture units.

Multiple chasing, utility connections, and mounting solutions to integrate technology components.

CPU modules with integrated fans and venting.

Integrated water line decontamination flushing systems to efficiently manage the process.

We have come full circle. Today’s dental furniture consistently provides functional design solutions with additional benefits beyond custom-designed creations.

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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