Improving Patient Comfort

Oct. 1, 2012
You and your staff’s ability to interact with patients in a caring, thoughtful manner, and your use of skillful pain management techniques ...

By Jeff Carter, DDS, and Pat Carter, IIDA

You and your staff’s ability to interact with patients in a caring, thoughtful manner, and your use of skillful pain management techniques are two crucial components of patient comfort. If you’re deficient in either area, take CE courses or enlist consultants who can help you. The third crucial component of patient comfort is your facility.

In a remodeled or new facility design, we recommend the following to ensure that your patients know how important their comfort is to you.

Indirect and varied lighting

Generic dental facilities that don’t engender feelings of comfort and relaxation typically have direct fluorescent fixtures spaced at regular intervals throughout the facility. Many discount retailers also use this lighting design to “flood” spaces with high light levels to display products consistently. Many people find this direct overhead light harsh and energy draining.

In design, the most successful outcomes mimic naturally occurring conditions. Inviting natural outdoor spaces in daytime are typically combinations of direct sunlight, filtered sunlight through trees and foliage, and shadows of varying levels. The interior of your facility should follow the same principles.

We recommend:

  • Use “direct-indirect” fluorescent fixtures for task lighting. These new fixture types “bounce” light from a reflector and “hide” the fluorescent, reducing glare and harshness.
  • Create areas of “high light” with accent lighting fixtures. Pinpoint spotlights that are directed at artwork, textured surfaces, and architectural details will “lift” your facility out of the generic realm and redirect patient focus.
  • Introduce up-lighting in ceiling beams and coves. Lighting portions of the ceiling and creating a warm glow make the ceiling feel higher and the room more spacious. Imagine how oppressive a commercial jet cabin would feel if up-lighting were not used on the ceiling.
  • Factor the impact of natural light and window locations in your lighting design. Use natural light to augment your interior lighting fixtures and introduce as many areas of high light levels and shadows as possible.

Sound control

The unwanted transmission of dental equipment noises and the sounds of other patients in distress are never a positive within your facility. It may seem counterintuitive, but the most successful sound control solutions also maximize patient comfort with design.

A mistake made in many facilities is the impulse to enclose “smallish” rooms with doors for the sake of patient privacy. A 10’ x 10’ treatment room with no windows and a closed door is a very threatening space to an anxious patient. You may improve sound control but not patient comfort.

We recommend the following sound control design options:

  • Varying ceiling heights will trap sound and prevent its transmission to adjacent spaces. Introduce ceiling soffits, coffers, and beams in transition spaces such as corridors and waiting areas.
  • Textured surfaces absorb and diminish sound transmission. Commercial finish materials are rated by NCR (noise coefficient ratio) standards. When you select carpeting, ceiling tiles, and wall coverings for your facility, factor in the NCR rating and consider materials with high NCR ratings.
  • Eliminate doors where reasonable in favor of trimmed openings to create a feeling of openness and still maintain sound control.
  • Insulate all interior walls within your space. Yes, all walls.
  • Place batt insulation on top of acoustical tile grid ceilings in consultation spaces to muffle conversational sound transmission.
  • Use 5/8” gypsum board vs. 1/2”.
  • Ambient stereo system ceiling speakers should be used as buffers in patient transition corridors to mitigate sound transmission emanating from operatories and sterilization areas.

Furniture styles

Generic reception areas typically have the same chair covered in the same fabric aligned along all available walls. This approach says bus station or hospital emergency room to your patients, which does little to promote a comfortable experience.

We recommend:

  • Mixing furniture styles and fabric coverings. A comfortable and inviting reception/waiting area may include a combination of arm chairs, lounge chairs, and loveseats. The mix of furnishings is reminiscent of a personal living space, which improves the comfort experience of “commercial” space.
  • Maintain a minimum of 11’ from chair back to chair back for seating that faces each other.

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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