Frequently Asked Questions

Who are you?
We are a dentist-to-dentist organization. Our founder, Dr. David Ahearn, and his board of dental advisors are actively involved in every detail of Design/Ergonomics. We get excited when a doctor decides to improve the future of his/her practice, and because we know that productivity is paramount, we have designed a system that will significantly enhance the efficiency of any dental practice. We use only the best materials, such as solid CORIAN®, and aircraft aluminum, to customize your office space, and we work with our customers directly, so as to minimize cost.
What do you do?
We design high performance dental offices. We do that efficiently. As a result, our fees are reasonable and our cost per treatment room is unbeatable. The reason we emphasize the cost per treatment room is that this is how you will earn income from what you produce.
What makes your designs so unique?
We broke a lot of dental rules when we created our design system! If you consolidate all your regular delivery system technology into an ultra-compact and efficient space, what you do with the rest of the office easy. We work with our clients to understand first and foremost that when it comes down to it dentists are manufacturers of custom products for individual clients- our patients. Yes, it’s a service business- but we don’t get paid unless we actually make something! Our job is to help you manufacture so effectively that you will have plenty of time to serve, educate and motivate your patients- resulting in markedly improved case acceptance. We approach an office design with an all-inclusive attitude, not as a series of pieces.
What is the best position for the operator to sit in when performing dentistry?

There are a multitude of opinions about operator position and, as is commonly the case when there are differing opinions, that usually means that there is no single answer. However, we can give you some background and a method of deciding how to make positioning ideal for your style of practice.

First, here’s a bit of history. The quest for “ideal” operator positioning comes from the studies of industrial hygiene (factories not dentistry!) at the middle of the past century. The whole idea was to make man part of the machinery &ndash a tool with a dental degree.

Here’s the problem:

Our patients vary; we have obese patients and tiny patients and patients that can’t lie flat. This isn’t an assembly line. If you break the machine (the doctor) you can’t just buy a new one! So we have to create an environment that is best for the “machine” not just for the task. Therefore, we need to split the process into basic principles and flexible options.

Basic principles– these are the ones that you probably learned in school:

  • Back upright
  • Minimal head tilt
  • Thighs parallel to the floor (not really — more on this later)
  • Feet flat on the floor (which can’t really happen because of the foot control)
  • Patient low to the legs (there are reasons why this is probably wrong too)
  • These principles are easier to adhere to from the 10° to 12° position, but that doesn’t mean much in reality.

This brings us to a flexible view of posture and positioning.

Spines get nourishment through motion. Motion is good! If you convert to a fixed focal length, for example with a microscope, you do so at great personal risk, especially if you perform long detailed procedures such as endo or crown and bridge. (There are solutions coming for this but they are still a ways off).

If it is true that bodies are healthiest when in motion, the goal should be to comfortably accommodate the range of postures required to provide care, so that it is not a big deal when Mrs. “I-can’t-lie-back-beyond-45°” comes in for endo on an upper molar.

To accomplish this you need flexible equipment– and most equipment isn’t very flexible.

What are the requirements for equipment flexibility?

Flexible Equipment:

  • Allows the operator to sit, stand or sit-stand in function
  • Allows the assistant and to a lesser extent the operator to sit, stand or sit-stand in function
  • Permits work from 7° to 1° for right handed operators (11° to 5° for left handers)

A flexible equipment layout should not place dynamic instruments to the side or rear of the operator or assistant except in very special situations (but please don’t do it — you don’t need to) Equipment flexibility is most easily accomplished with over-the-patient or over-the-head equipment

I find the whole prospect of building an office from scratch thoroughly intimidating. I've heard so many horror stories about cost overruns and construction delays. Is it really possible to build reliably without running into these problems?
A successful construction project is no accident. It is the result of meticulous planning and, more importantly- control. It’s easy for a contractor as the gatekeeper to control your project. Design Ergonomics’ experience in construction planning and our attention to process can help you make and follow through on the decisions that will lead to successful completion of your office building – on time and on budget. We will work with you from the onset to control costs in the design of your new office so that changes that you or your contractor make during the process, do not push you over budget.
I'm already working more hours than I'd like to admit. How am I going to increase my productivity without creating even more stress?
Our studies have shown that, even in successful practices, significant time and energy are spent every day on unproductive effort, which delivers no benefit to the patient and no profit to the practice. We have found that careful planning and organization can free up this time and energy, which you can then use to increase your income, spend more time with your family, or could you imagine, play more. Offices frequently experience an immediate 30% increase in productivity once the new workflow is complete. Improvements continue well beyond this level as the operator becomes more adept at the system capabilities.
How do you create a treatment room in an extremely small space?

Many offices desperately need additional treatment rooms, but the challenge of creating additional space is huge. Nonetheless, by using specialized layouts, it is entirely possible to create fantastic hygiene treatment rooms in extremely compact spaces. In order to compact doctor rooms, we often use what we refer to as room pairs, space saving and efficient layouts. Though not always possible, we frequently trim room dimensions considerably, by recommending Ergonomic Products’ Inwall® cabinetry.

Another opportunity for increasing operatory counts occurs, when there’s no real reason to make a hygiene room design 9 or 10 feet wide, since so few hygienists are 9 or 10 feet wide! Wasted dimensions will only trigger a waste in motion. And consequently a waste of time and money. Compact hygiene rooms are much easier to work in.

By the way… we can also make reasonably sized rooms super-productive!

How does ergonomics relate to the day to day practice of dentistry?
Dentistry, when stripped of all of its professionalism (diagnosis, communication, management, etc.) is a manufacturing process. A crown (etc.) must be successfully made and placed in order to be compensated. When viewed in this light it just makes sense that the best manufacturer must have the best equipment in the best work environment. And that best is not just a pretty picture, it requires a very carefully planned and executed facility. Ergonomics serves as the foundation for this work.
How long will it take you to design my new office?
That depends entirely upon your needs. Once you have provided us with a few critical pieces of information we expect to provide you with concept sketches in 7 working days. No one else will make a commitment like that. We have constructed entire offices in as little as twelve weeks. Slowing the process is only a benefit for the designer. It never saves you money. When possible we prefer to assign a full time designer to your project until its completion.
I've got a small practice. I work mainly out of one room, and I'm basically happy with the way I'm doing things. Why should I change to a system that is centered on the overall office rather than treatment room centric?
No reason at all, if it’s working for you – great. However, if you’re moving or need to replace your existing equipment, then you owe it to yourself to look seriously at a centralized method of organization. Take the time to investigate our system carefully. If you’re looking to find more time, more income, or more professional success in your practice… make the change. If you are satisfied with the way things are, quite frankly, you’re better off staying with what you have.
Tell me why chair conversion is so important for overall profitability?
Chair conversion is, in dental practice, a part of what in industry is known as “zero changeover”. Zero changeover studies particularly as part of the Toyota production system teach techniques that markedly reduce the time required to convert from procedure to procedure. The results of designing for zero changeover alone can increase your practice results dramatically.

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How many operatories should a private dental practice have in order to yield the highest gross production?

There are many, many factors involved in determining absolute productivity and many ways to influence productivity without adding treatment rooms… but that is another question!

We know that, in general practice, one doctor and proper support staff are, without question, best served by three operatories per doctor – not including hygiene rooms.

Most practitioners are unwilling to do this and, as a consequence, suffer economically and via increased stress. If a practice is unable to afford the space or expense of providing this volume, it is best to stagger office hours between practitioners.

Now, here is the real answer – You can do this:

  • Operatories don’t have to be big.
  • They don’t have to be expensive.
  • They do have to multifunctional.

If you are smart about your operatory design and implementation, you can have it all – number, productivity and affordability.

You show a large number of standardized plans, but my needs are special. How should I proceed?
Pre-templated plans do save you money and they are rapidly provided. Many times it is possible to customize a preexisting plan economically. However, special needs sometimes require a full ground up conception.
I've heard that your offices are noted for exceptional on-time performance. How is that accomplished?
By studying quality leaders in other industries, such as Toyota, we have been able to design systems that allow you to create consistent quality in a very cost effective manner.
Why shouldn't I just have a local dental supply company draw up my new office plan?

Working with your local dental supply company may seem like your simplest and cheapest design alternative – especially when they throw out an offer for a free design. However, it is said that, there is no such thing as a free lunch and, when it comes to design plans, someone has to pay for that meal – that someone is you. You’ll pay in lost productivity, poor space utilization, increased cabinet and equipment costs, inadequate design documentation, and a lack of esthetic plan – just to name a few.

You can’t really blame the supply company. First, they make their big money on supplies – hence the name. Equipment is a headache for them, but they’ve got to sell it, if not – they might lose your account to a catalog. (Hmmm… If you don’t need them for equipment. If you can use anyone for service…) Second, chances are that they didn’t charge you up front for your “design”, which means they have to make money somewhere.


a) They design for what is easiest for them. They don’t really know how to increase your productivity through careful layout and they probably couldn’t care less about meeting your personal goals and expectations. The faster and simpler the job is for them, the better, because doing the job right just costs them more… much more. Remember, they don’t do dentistry for a living. Why should we expect an equipment salesman to understand peak performance when most dentists don’t?

b) They make sure to use a bunch of cabinets and accessories you don’t need in order to get paid back for the design. You’ll never hear a supply company telling you to simplify your supply cabinets or to streamline on the variety of products you need – that’s where they make money! In fact, they probably hope your cabinets are a mess-then you’ll buy more supplies when you can’t find the ones you already own. (No, that’s probably not true. It just seems like it, doesn’t it?)

Save yourself a bunch of money and pay for your office design. You could hire our firm or someone else – just make sure they truly understand dentistry! You’ll save your money in the long run. Don’t worry, when it is time to purchase supplies, your supplier will still be there.

I have a very restricted amount of space for my office renovation. How small can I make my operatories, without diminishing functionality?

Most operatories are both too large and too cramped! Dentists are only human – we tend to take a space, and then fill it up until there is absolutely no room left to budge. Imagine how that feels for the patient, to lie amidst a clutter of dental objects. Also, think about what it is doing to your performance! Working in a cramped and inefficiently organized environment is like trying to change your clothes in a broom closet! You can do it, sure, but it won’t be fun or productive.

Normally, we recommend one primary design objective for your treatment rooms – maximized throughput. Frequently, we create symmetrical cross function space (doctor and hygiene). We commonly will set these rooms at 8′ 4″ x 10′ 6″. Since room length is rarely the constraint, even in a crowded space, sometimes we’ll even go to 11′ in length. This extra length allows the room to feel less medical, as it’s more inviting and certainly more spacious. Patients don’t see width and less is generally better for wall use.

We can also redefine how you use your space in general. In order to increase your treatment room count, you may not want to simply shrink each room space, but instead consider… room pairs.

The doctor and assistant team work very, very differently than hygienists or even hygienists with hygiene assistants. Dedicated hygiene rooms should be narrower. How wide is a hygienist’s wingspan? 4 1/2 feet? Why would you put walls and shelves for your dental equipment out where you have to stand up and walk to get it? Why create an 8 – 10′ wide room for a 4 1/2′ wide operator? In this situation, the place for width is at the toe end of the room where the patient sees and feels its spaciousness.

Room pairs allow two rooms in a width of as little as 14 feet. That’s right, f o u r t e e n feet. That means that if you thought that you had room for four operatories, two pairs of rooms will leave you with space for a fifth operatory. And, you can accomplish all this for about the same cost as creating the four initial conventional rooms.

A thoughtful design can make almost any room highly functional. In actuality, size doesn’t limit most doctors or their practices. Rather, it’s a lack of adequate room numbers that can be stifling. For example, you need space for overflow, emergencies, increasing hygiene or, you need extra room in the event of equipment failure, or to allow a slightly slower staff member the time to learn and improve new skills and techniques.

We recommend that you slow down for the design process. Simplify. Condense. Organize. We want to help you create space for an adequate number of treatment rooms. You’ll spend less, you’ll get more, and you’ll enjoy the benefits of a more productive office after having completed the process.

How do I make the transition from dental school to private practice?

If you are a recent dental school graduate and you are trying to figure out how to make it in the real world, in order to make the transition productively, you basically have three choices:

1. Become a specialist so that you can have higher fees to make up for your inefficiency… not a bad choice… but obviously not the one that most of us make… and you really don’t have to become a specialist in order to make a great living.

2. Practice in a place where you can do primarily high-end cosmetics (essentially you’re becoming a specialist and will do the same thing as in #1, but remember you won’t be getting referrals from other dentists!) To do this, you need to spend most of your time and attention on marketing and training.

3. Get efficient. This is what most of us can do today in order to make a successful practice. To do this, you’ve got to think outside the box… (okay, outside the cubicle really). Here are a few of the basic requirements:

a. You should learn how to schedule and thereby work at least two equal treatment rooms (with additional rooms for hygiene). That means trained assistants that can actually do things not just suck saliva. This doesn’t mean that you’ll be running around. Quite the contrary. It means that you can comfortably transition from patient to patient without tremendous stress placed on your in procedure on-time performance.

b. Except for a very few practices, hygiene is where your next treatment comes from – grow it. Hire great hygienists, be ready to pay for that and make sure that they are highly motivated. You need to help with their peak efficiency because they aren’t going to come cheaply and, like you, they won’t have learned efficiency in school!

c. Create a system whereby all instruments and supplies can be obtained by both doctor and assistant from the seated position. Visit our sister company, Ergonomic Products, for ideas about equipping your treatment environment. They have some very unique and innovative solutions to outfitting your treatment rooms for peak performance.

Design Ergonomics

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