Why is design important to a dental practice

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The reception at the White Clinic in Lisbon, Portugal. (Image: White Clinic)

When we think of good design, the images that often come to mind are of things that are beautiful, new, modern and, perhaps, expensive. We do not always think in terms of design for a dental practice. However, a good design could increase productivity and profitability, of which, of course, the patient is the main source. A focus on functionality and workflow will result as well in a more efficient dental practice with less stress. Another equally important factor is well-being—a feeling of peace and relaxation for yourself, your team and your patients, and a thoughtfully considered redesigning of the practice will offer better interactions between the patients, the practitioner and his or her team. In this interview, Dr Miguel Stanley gives some insights into the extraordinary design concept of his White Clinic.

Dr Stanley, when I look at photos of the White Clinic, I have a feeling of well-being. Was the design of the clinic something important to you and, if so, why?
I think design is very important. Dentists are, by default, designers because they have to design teeth and they have to design smiles. At the end of the day, we are artists. So, without a doubt, a dental clinic should reflect the values, principles and ethos of the team. The White Clinic is, for me, much like its name, which is why the lab coats and the white boards need to be very clean and very simple.

Waiting room. (Image: Filipa Gonçalves)

As you said, dental clinics have always been associated with something uncomfortable, so even in my very first clinic, my goal was always to create very welcoming spaces.

In some clinics, you will notice that dentists or business owners want to maximise space in order to fit in as many treatment rooms as possible. I think, based on my treatment philosophy of Slow Dentistry, that seeing fewer patients a day offers a higher quality of service. Consequently, I do not want a full waiting room or packed corridors.

It is, therefore, important for me to create an environment with a serene, comfortable high-tech ambience. It is as important for the clinic as refreshing, updating and upgrading the technology we use is. We can update the reception area and the front desk by something as simple as giving the walls a new coat of paint or changing the furniture and decorations. Cleanliness is, of course, very important to me as well.

What were the points you considered vital for the design of the White Clinic?
Design for me, very much like architecture, is all about function. Form follows function. It must be functional. If you are trying to build a clinic in a pre-existing space like an old building, where, for example, you cannot knock walls down, it is very difficult to create a workflow around the existing architecture or to design your floor plan according to the ideal workflow.

Light colours give a feeling of purity. (Image: Filipa Gonçalves)

It is easier to build from scratch in an open space, where the architecture can and should follow the workflow and the patient’s journey.

At the White Clinic, everything was designed around the patient’s journey. We want patients to spend a very short time in the reception area and then go straight to the CBCT scans and panoramic radiography area. A short walk will then bring them to the treatment rooms. There, also everything has been done in such a way that the patients feel that they are the centre of the world.

Privacy is also very important; we treat many VIPs, so we do not want too much confusion and clutter. Therefore, every single detail has been designed around the workflow that we want for our patients Obviously, much effort has gone into making them feel safe and protected so that they can feel that they are in a safe place and that there is a variety of the latest technology available for use when necessary.

Many dental offices are not as contemporary in design as the White Clinic is. It offers uncluttered spaces, light colours and a feeling of purity. Why was it important to you that the clinic had this style of decor and has it made any difference to your interactions with your colleagues, team and patients?
Ever since I designed my first clinic in 1999, I have understood the importance of the convergence of great service, a comfortable environment and ample light, even going as far as hiring a Feng Shui expert to assess the flow of energy and to help me understand the importance of light, windows and well-aired spaces.

My treatment rooms are always large, so that family members can be in the room with the more nervous patients, and therefore there is considerable space for the patients and my team to move around freely.

Treatment room. (Image: Filipa Gonçalves)

I keep things very simple; I do not over-complicate. We have white floors, white walls and very few personal objects. Everything is about the work that we do here and reflects the job we do. The star of the White Clinic is the technology that we have and use, such as the dental chairs. It all reflects our minimalistic approach to our work.

We do not have anything to hide, and therefore we do not embellish with fancy decoration. The way that my team works, the service and technology we offer, is what people come for, and the clinic is just a backdrop for that. Since we are not trying to hide anything, we do not need to embellish anything either, and I think this is a strong message that the patients appreciate and understand.

Dr Stanley, is there anything you would like to add?
I think that, especially because of this pandemic, moving forward, one wants a waiting room that is not overcrowded, where people feel they are not sitting on top of one another.

People need to be aware of the cleanliness as well. Many people overlook bathrooms, which are, to me, incredibly important. That is where people understand the intimate workings of cleanliness. Having a very clean bathroom with attractive soap, towels and lighting is essential because it is an important reflection on the clinic.

The overall appearance of the clinic sends out the message that we care about the details, and I think that is the most important thing that dentists want their patients to understand. This, in turn, is shown in our approach to treating them.

I think that this should shine through every single bit of decoration and design.

Editorial note:

Dr Miguel Stanley, dentist and director of the White Clinic in Lisbon in Portugal, agreed to answer a few questions about the importance of design for him and for his clinic. More information about the White Clinic can be found at whiteclinic.pt.

Design Feng Shui Practice design Slow Dentistry Well-being White Clinic

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