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Designing Your Office – What to Look For

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Designing Your Office – What to Look For

By Joyce Matlack, A.S.I.D., Matlack-Van Every Design, Inc., Santa Cruz, California

Key points:

  • Once you’ve chosen your property, other decisions (if building) include placement on the building site, building orientation and number of floor levels; if leasing, consider floor level and window exposure.
  • The size and shape of the office will determine how to maximize patient and staff flow.


Creating an orthodontic office that reflects the quality of care you provide your patients can be a challenging journey. The first step in the process is articulating your vision for your new office. Utilizing the expertise of design professionals who specialize in orthodontic offices will assist you in designing your dream office. An experienced design professional will be able to ask the right questions and help guide you to valuable resources and answers to realize your vision.

Building Orientation and Placement on Site

When deciding on a location, there are numerous factors to consider. A thorough demographic survey is highly recommended to evaluate practice growth, referring doctor locations, and school locations. (For more information, see Planning-Selecting the Location)

The location of your building or suite on the property or in the development is also of great concern. Floor level, accessibility and visibility affect the way your office attracts and welcomes patients. Ideally orthodontic bays should face the north so sun and glare will not likely be a problem. The second choice would be to face east. Whenever possible try to avoid the south or western heat and glare exposure for the ortho bay. A beautiful western view won’t be appreciated if you need to keep the windows covered most of the day. If your view is more valuable than your lighting a perforated shade may allow you to use the space.

Views may be better in multistory buildings. However there are pros and cons with children using elevators and stairs.

Along with the location you’ll want to explore visibility and signage for your office space. Patients and parents should be able to see the office name without having to search for it.

Accessibility to the building should comply with building code regulations and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Also make sure you have adequate parking. Neither your staff nor patients want the inconvenience of searching for parking now or in the future. (For more information, see Planning-Determining Parking Needs)

Size & Shape of Your Building or Suite

A slightly rectilinear space is the easiest to design when circular flow is desired and the building is large enough. The smaller the office, the more challenging it is to accommodate all of the required rooms and services. Odd shapes, support columns, and accessibility present real challenges to design and functionality.

Current ADA and building codes state that most, if not all of the office spaces have to be accessible with a 5’ clear turning radius allowing wheelchairs to turn and leave instead of backing out of a room. Most municipalities require all toilets to be accessible. Door clearances and counter-height restrictions are tightly mandated. The result is that you will need more square footage in order to keep the desired functionality of your office and simultaneously meet code requirements. Rooms with two 3 foot wide doors do not require a turning radius.

The size and shape of the office will determine how to maximize patient and staff flow. If the office is large enough, a circular flow pattern is ideal. New patients can flow one direction and existing patients can sign in at the computer and go the other direction. Patients can leave the ortho bay from either side to return to the receptionist and appointment coordinator. A stand-up consult area tucked slightly off the hall traffic flow is nice for the mini-consults with a parent, patient, doctor or clinical staff person.

Smaller offices can use one passage hall. This hall should be five feet wide if possible to allow for passage of staff and patient traffic coming and going.

Construction Costs

The cost of your project is an enormously important factor when making plans and decisions. Check on the cost of labor and materials in your locale. Work with the best and most knowledgeable professionals in design, architecture and dental office construction to put together a realistic budget for you. Your accountant should be part of the team along with your other orthodontic consultants.