The big news in dental tech has been 3D printing and the promise of robotics, but there’s another tech revolution that promises to remake the look of dental offices. While practices have long understood that a comfortable environment was important to make their patients feel confident about the service they’re getting, designs have leaned toward the clinical, with softer paint tones and upgraded cabinetry and lighting the main focus.
Just as these designs took their cues from medical settings, a new set of possibilities is making its way from medical facilities into dental offices. The use of heavily themed decor and of 2D and 3D multimedia is an emerging trend. Far from being a “cute” addition to the primary clinical mission, an immersive environment that’s more reminiscent of a theme park than a dental office can improve the patient experience, calm fears, and contribute to better clinical outcomes. The medical literature is replete with studies about why — and how badly — many people fear dental treatments. Reducing or removing that fear can enhance patient loyalty and enhance the patient’s dental health by encouraging them to make the regular appointments needed to maintain their oral wellness.
There are two distinct approaches seen in practices that are using design to differentiate themselves and reduce patient anxiety:
First is the use of visual theming, creating an environment where all of the visual clues are designed to create a sense of calm. Because beaches bring many people a sense of calm and rest, beach themes — bright colors, coastal imagery, surfboards, fish mounts, aquariums and marine bric a brac — are popular with both practitioners and patients. Other themes recreate the homey calm of a mountain lodge, with exposed beams, stonework and fireplaces. Tranquility Dental Wellness in Washington State has created offices that are designed — and run — like a five-star luxury spa. Patients can pick from amenities including aromatherapy, heated massage chairs, warm herbal neck rolls and paraffin hand wax. Muted earth tones, overstuffed furniture and stonework complete the setting.
Orthodontist Dr. David Myers of Conway, AR took a different direction for his office. An avid collector of automobiles and memorabilia, when Myers heard that a developer was building a new retail space that would incorporate an existing 1940s gas station, he knew exactly where his new office would be. Myers took the space and filled it with pieces from his personal collection, augmented with nostalgic graphics inspired by companies like Sinclair Oil (whose logo incorporated a big green dinosaur). There’s a reproduction of a “woody” — an early station wagon popular as a beach car in the 1940s and 50s. Seating is made from the back half of cars — and was created by Dr. Myers and his father from vintage autos.
A higher tech option that has found many applications in hospitals and clinics is the use of 3D art and projections.
David Mathieu is CEO of Comfort Health Solutions, which designs and builds these installations across the globe. David has a passion for improving the patient experience with a specific focus on pediatric patients and their families. While most of the company’s work has been installed in imaging suites, they are starting to move into dental practices. With a good reason.
“Patient anxiety is real, and it has an effect on outcomes,” Mathieu said. “In my case, I‘ve been afraid of dentists my whole life. When I was a child, I was being treated by a dentist and accidentally bit down on his thumb.”
Comfort Health uses computer-generated images and 3D art such as sculptures to create an immersive experience for patients, one that calms them.
“We did an installation at Duke University,” Matthieu recalls. “There was a little girl, 9 or 10 years old, who had to have multiple MRIs. Every time she was scanned, she had to be sedated because of her fear. After we finished the installation, she came in and was scanned without any sedation. The imagery we created was able to distract her so she forgot her fears.”
One of the most interesting features of these installations is that, because the imagery is projected, it can be changed by simply choosing another theme from a library of themes accessed via a tablet.
“Dental practices are always looking for a way to differentiate themselves,” Mathieu noted, “and having an office that is relaxing and promotes better patient outcomes is a good way to do that.”
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