Installing six operatories in the same space as five no longer requires compromise. Doing so could increase your practice’s production by 17%—while saving you thousands on construction costs.

Melissa Sprau Benco Dental

MELISSA SPRAU, NCIDQ manages Benco Dental’s team of CenterPoint designers. A graduate of Moore College of Art & Design, she has more than 12 years of experience in facilities planning for a large health-care system and interior design with several architecture firms.

OPERATORIES ARE USUALLY a primary bottleneck when it comes to production. On one hand, you don’t want more than you need; that’s simply a waste of money. On the other hand, having too few operatories stresses your scheduler and team because it forces them to grapple with merciless turnover, day after trying day.

Depending on where you practice, an average operatory can generate about $220,000 annually if managed and scheduled correctly—which is to say, consistently but not relentlessly busy. That means if you can install six operatories into a space where only five would traditionally fit, you’ll increase production by about 17%—comfortably. Plus, you’ll be cutting down on the usual stress generated by juggling impressions, waiting on anesthetic, cleaning and more.

But wait, you say. Won’t that also increase my construction and equipment costs, making the whole thing a break-even? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is no. Most operatories are too big, and they’re stuffed with more equipment than you need—not to mention way too much cabinetry.

Ask yourself: How many drawers are completely empty in your ops right now—or worse, how many are filled with miscellaneous junk that you haven’t thought about in months? By paring your operatories down closer to the essentials, it’s possible to install six ops for roughly the same price as five and enjoy the added peace that comes with simplifying your working environment. (Not to mention reducing body stress caused by unnecessary strain and motion, something you can’t put a price on.)

In terms of raw construction costs, there are different scenarios to consider. First, if all you want to do is get six ops in the space ordinarily allotted to five, you can easily save about $7,000. But what if you’re thinking bigger? Let’s say you’re planning a much larger practice with construction costs of about $250 per square foot. Trimming the size of your ops, along with some additional space planning, could save you 1,000 square feet and $250,000.

Either way, you’ve already offset the cost of cabinetry, of which you’ll need less in a “just right” operatory. Bottom drawers are eliminated, since almost nobody uses them. Instead, we’ll free up that space for foot and lower leg movement, as well as more visual openness. We can also save additional space by opting for smarter, more space-efficient cabin­etry like the Herman Miller Compass line. It has a depth of just 16 inches, versus 19 or 20 inches for traditional cabinetry. You won’t miss the few extra inches, since everybody hates reaching blindly into the back of a cabinet anyway.

At this point, you probably assume we’re talking about open bays. The truth, however, is that open bays save no real space. The clearances are generally the same between open and closed. However, because we’ve already opted for space-saving cabinetry to begin with, we can enjoy all the benefits of closed bays (acoustical privacy, better control of air quality) without any claustrophobia. “Just right” operatories aren’t miniature; they’re more like midsize.

Obviously, it probably doesn’t make sense to tear out your current operatories and start over from scratch, unless you’re in a real estate market where rental prices are eating you alive. However, if you’re considering moving to a new building or creating a practice from the ground up, opting for “just right” operatories will save you money and position you closer to profitability from day one.

It’s time to shake off the notion that big is inherently better and start using space smarter. “Just right” operatories deliver less stress, increased efficiency, improved production and better earnings, in a footprint that’s perfect for ergonomically minded practitioners.