Lessons from COVID for Future Dental & Orthodontic Office Construction

Posted in Medical Construction.

The Covid -19 pandemic that began last year has had a profound impact on how many businesses now function. Even after we have better control of the virus and its impacts are not being so directly felt, there will be long-term changes to how businesses operate. For dental and orthodontic practices, there are several takeaways from having worked through the pandemic that should be incorporated in any future office construction projects.

Separation of patient care areas

Many orthodontic offices have embraced an open plan approach in the treatment area. This has allowed for large communal spaces and a good density of patients as well as ready access by multiple technicians to common tools and supplies.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus outbreak has shown some of the limitations with this approach. Having undivided area allows for the spreading of virus between patients and staff alike and necessitated the implementation of temporary measures to allow practices to reopen.

Future offices should minimize patient-to-patient exposure by using enclosed care areas. Physical barriers can be designed to allow for light to flow between rooms by incorporating clear or frosted glass panels. These minimize the possibility of pathogens in aerosolized droplets being spread between patients, without requiring that treatment areas be either very large with their own windows to benefit from natural light, or otherwise be small dark boxes.

Design for simplified cleaning and sterilization processes

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, practices have increased the visibility and transparency on the cleaning and sterilization practices that have always been a part of running quality dental and orthodontic practices. For many practices, the cleaning rigor associated with public areas such as reception, main entrances, restrooms and offices has been increased to more closely match the frequency and intensity that was previously employed in care areas.

The increased frequency of cleaning both touchpoints and the wider office environment, highlights the importance of selecting the right materials for floors, countertops, fixtures and more. As new dental and orthodontic offices are built following Covid -19, practice owners should consider incorporating touch free amenities like light sensors, touchless hand sanitizers, touchless faucets and more.

Wall finishes and flooring choices should be specially designed to support medical environment requirements and be able to withstand frequent cleanings with potentially aggressive cleaning products. Some practices may also look for ways to minimize the amount of in-operatory counter tops and storage, looking for new approaches to tool management and storage that can also streamline and speed up cleaning and maintenance approaches.

Clearly delineate care zones

The major zones of a dental or orthodontic practice are pretty common and well understood. The public zone generally encompasses the reception area as well as some office space or consultation rooms. The care zone holds treatment areas and includes lab and storage spaces. The team space should provide a private area that allows staff to take a break and recharge. While these general zones are clear, Covid-19 has made some practices examine ways to strengthen the divisions and implement protocols to increase sanitation practices, particularly within the care zone.

Future practices may want to consider following the lead of medical facilities like hospitals and further breaking down the care zone into designated “clean” and “dirty” areas. These facilities physically separate things like collection points for used linens and equipment needing to be cleaned from those that have been processed and are ready to be used. Creating the physical separation helps to prevent cross contamination and increases patient safety.

Air quality solutions

One area of building design and management that Covid-19 has brought to the center of attention is internal air quality. While there are groups that have tried for years to increase the public’s awareness and interest in this topic, it largely fell flat when compared with other environmental and building management concerns.

Since the start of the pandemic when the discussions centered on determining whether Covid-19 was transmitted via droplets or was truly airborne, recommendations to mitigate and slow the spread have included minimizing time indoors and keeping windows open to increase air flow through buildings.

Many businesses, including dental and orthodontic practices, found themselves adding air filtration systems to create a safer and healthier environment for staff and patients. These systems were often implemented hurriedly, using the best available products at the time.

Future dental and orthodontic office construction should make planning for air flow management and air quality more central to the complete design process, employing more targeted environmental control and management tools. Air quality solutions are just one more tool to help keep staff and patients safe, and need to be selected and engineered to work appropriately with the rest of the practice design.

Getting help and support from experts in the field of dental and orthodontic office design makes creating a practice environment that protects the health and safety of staff and patients a less overwhelming experience. Our team at Real Services is here to share our experience and expertise and help you build your new practice. Contact Us today to get started.