The hardest space to evaluate without bias is your own. Whether it’s our homes, our practices, our closets, our cars … our own clutter, disorganization and dated esthetic becomes comfortable and easy to look past. 

The space we practice in is a new experience for our patients each time they walk through the door. Because they aren’t in the office often, sitting in the waiting room, being escorted to the treatment area, and sitting in the dental chair can put a patient's senses on overload. Is the dental light smudgy? Is there dust on the arm of the chair? Is wallpaper peeling? Does your office still have wallpaper?

We can become so inundated with updating our equipment and technology that we forget what the walls are saying to our patients.

I started my practice from scratch just shy of two years ago. Because I outfitted a brand new space, I don’t have scuffed walls, dilapidated upholstery, or off-putting paint colors.

While it’s not uncommon to have a patient compliment the esthetic of the practice, what surprises me on a daily basis is how many comments I get on how “high-tech” we are. While all of my dental equipment is new, and we have intraoral cameras and individual monitors for patients to watch during photos and charting, I wouldn’t consider my office high-tech. I use a master ceramist, but I don’t have CAD-CAM. I have digital radiographs, but we can’t afford a panorex or 3D imaging yet. I’d love a laser, but it’s sitting on the short list of things to buy when we can. Over the last two years, our big purchases have been outfitting additional treatment operatories, not in trending technology.

perception of dental practice figure 1

So why is this interesting?

I think it’s a lesson in taking a step back. It’s easy to feel like we need everything we want in dentistry. But in reality, we can do exceptional dentistry without a lot of those new toys. One of my biggest areas of concern starting from scratch was the perception of the patient. Would my empty pan room look like we didn’t have what we needed? Would the two operatories without chairs in them seem unprofessional? What I’ve found pleasantly surprising is that ultimately, the look and feel of the office affect the patient's perception far more than a laser or a CAD machine.

I was recently at the annual meeting for the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and a motivational speaker recommended walking through the front door of your practice and sitting in your waiting room. He recommended we sit in our dental chair, recline it, and have a look around. See, feel and smell what your patients do.

perception of dental practice figure 2

One of the offices I practiced at for a few years had dated equipment, but had been updated with a digital panorex and digital radiographs. It was renovated a few short months after I began working there, but here’s where I started on the left, in comparison with one of my current operatories on the right:

perception of dental practice figure 3

Those operatories have the ability to do the same level of dentistry if the same practitioner were to utilize the equipment. Neither office has anything too swanky as far as new technology, but how do you feel looking at those two photos? Which one gives the impression of being high-tech? Which one feels like you’re getting a greater level of care?

I was the hand holding the handpiece in both of those treatment rooms!

Next time you get to work a few minutes early, or don’t have to rush out at the end of the day, walk the patient's walk through your office. Investing in painting the walls or reupholstering your chairs may cost less and be far more impactful than your next big equipment purchase.

(Click this link to read more dentistry articles by Dr. Courtney Lavigne.)

Courtney Lavigne, D.M.D., Spear Visiting Faculty and Contributing Author -


Commenter's Profile Image Andrew C.
January 14th, 2017
You did a great job on your office. Beautiful and best of luck.
Commenter's Profile Image Jessica P.
January 16th, 2017
Commenter's Profile Image Mary Anne S.
January 17th, 2017
Great article Courtney! You did a great job and your office looks beautiful. I have been in my same space for 25 years and just change up furniture and paint and carpeting and artwork every 5-8 years . I don't have room for more technology in my office and have pretty much what you all works fine and I haven't had to invest in that big million dollar renovation with sleepless pm's worrying about debt. I so appreciate the point you made. Thanks for putting it out there! MaryAnne