Building Design for Animals

Article by Paul Gladysz, AIA, NCARB, CSI, ICC

Dental Month: Adding Bite to Your Practice

A well-equipped and well-situated suite will help a hospital capitalize on the fast-growing service of oral care.

Veterinary medicine has enjoyed healthy growth for a number of years in the range of services offered. For many general practices and specialty hospitals, income and caseload growth are powered by expanded diagnostic and treatment modalities.

Carving out space for special procedures has become standard in both new and existing clinics. Clients are looking to add dental suites, rooms for ultrasound, endoscopy and laser therapy, and dedicated areas for what was once considered alternative medicine: acupuncture, massage and acupressure.

Dental care is by far the fastest-growing service at the majority of our firm's clients.

To design a dental space, you need to identify necessities. For example:


  • Tables are either a plumbed wet tub or a non-plumbed collection style.
  • Tub tables, while more expensive, can be used for dental cleanings and other wet treatments, so they are more flexible.
  • Collection tables can be used for dry treatments and dental cleanings. Most have the added benefit of being height-adjustable.
  • Lift wet tables are available, providing the best of both options, but the cost is at the upper end.


  • Dental X-ray can be handheld, pole mounted, spider-base mounted or wall mounted, the most common choice. If you go with the last option, placement is key to ensure that the reach of the mounting arms will cover the entire area where the animal's head will rest.
  • If you don't have adequate wall space, a mobile pole-mounted unit is the most flexible and can be parked out of the way when not in use.
  • The third option is a hand-held unit, which some practitioners prefer and others don’t care for.

Dental Machine

  • When choosing a dental machine, focus on function, fit and needed connections.
  • The first consideration should be functionality: Will it do the things you need to fit your protocols?
  • Next is fit. Where will it live? Some units are fairly small and will sit on a cart in the table’s knee space or be mounted there on a swing arm. Larger, taller units will need a floor parking space.


  • You will need an anesthesia machine. If it's mounted on a cart, you can quickly run out of floor space. The option is a wall-mounted unit at the other end of the table. You will have the hoses draped across the table or over the animal, but it frees up space. Unless your hospital has central medical air, getting a unit providing an onboard compressor is best.
  • Oxygen needs to be supplied at the table. Depending on the kind and location of the anesthesia machine, oxygen can be supplied from a ceiling drop, wall outlet or small tank with the machine.
  • Waste anesthesia gas disposal, or scavenging, is necessary. If you are not using canisters, an active system is recommended. Central systems are available for a relatively small investment and can serve not just the dental station but also treatment and surgery areas.

Room setup

  • Lighting traditionally is supplied by ceiling-mounted fixtures. Brightness-adjustable LED lamps are efficient and cooler. Gaining in popularity are loupe lights. Many practices use both.
  • A room or ceiling exhaust fan is nice if it can be easily installed. Some procedures generate obnoxious odors, so best to capture them at the source.
  • Ergonomics is very important. Dental procedures can be lengthy, and a busy practice can have them going all day. Height-adjustable stools and tables as well as wrist rests and back support will make for a much better and more productive workspace.
  • Dental suites with multiple tables can be leveraged for greater utilization. A single wall-mounted X-ray machine can cover the working ends of both tables if positioned correctly, otherwise a mobile unit is the next choice. A splitter will allow two anesthesia machines to use a single oxygen drop.

Finally, dental areas should be located close to but away from the flow of the treatment room. Team members who perform cleanings need immediate access to doctors, so being remote can be problematic.

If the dental suite is not in an adjacent, separate room, the best place would be an alcove visible from the treatment area.

Client education helps build a dental practice, but a well-thought-out suite sustains the service and maximizes productivity and income.

Read the full-text article on Today's Veterinary Business: Add Bite to Your Dental Business.