For the last two weeks we’ve been looking at how to reduce and manage your stress, but what about your patients? How do you help to reduce the stress they feel the minute they walk through the door of your dental practice and sit down? The answer comes, not with what you say, but what your waiting room says, and the design you choose will either reduce stress or it will increase it. Your waiting room is your first impression, and you want to make the best one possible.

I’m going to start this off by saying that if you don’t think your waiting room can send negative messages about you and your dental practice, you’re very much wrong, which is why the design of a waiting room needs to be taken seriously with a focus on the details and what those details are communicating. What is a particular waiting room saying about a particular dental office? When you’re sitting and waiting to be seen, how do you feel when the lighting is so low that you’re sitting in shadows, or in a hard plastic chair, with out of date magazines, and a smell lingering in the air that makes you want to run for the hills? Our senses affect how we perceive and react to other people and surroundings, and when the waiting room is heightening rather than lessening our worst fears, we tend to not return. Your waiting room needs to reflect the kind of practitioner you are, and if your choices are negative or lacking effort, you are saying the same about yourself, and you are telling the patient that they can’t trust you. The last thing patients need is for their external environment to mirror their internal concerns. To discover what your waiting room should say, I am going to discuss how each of the four senses affects people’s perceptions and provide tips to help you design or redesign your waiting room to make a good and lasting impression on your patients.


1 What am I looking at?

What we see affects how we feel; we are all affected by physical stimuli in psychological ways. Because of this, it’s important to choose your lighting, colors, and designs wisely and with your patients in mind. The point of your waiting room is to provide the patient with a sense of comfort, allowing them to feel calm and relaxed and cared for; therefore, lighting plays one of the most important roles in a waiting room. Too dark and you are telling your patients that you don’t care about them. Also, you are amplifying their fears of the unknown by leaving them physically in the dark. Too bright and you are washing out the color and creating a cold and emotionless impression. Find a happy medium by imagining your waiting room as a living room. Keep the lighting low and warm to foster a caring and compassionate environment.   

Choosing the right colors for your waiting room is pivotal to creating a more relaxing atmosphere. Here are some color options to consider for their earthy and warm tones.

–  Blue (all shades) has a calming effect, prompting images of a clear sky and an open ocean.

Green provides a relaxing and earthy atmosphere.

Purple (muted shades) will add a splash of color without being too loud or too intense.

pink (pale) is a warm color, promoting a sense of tranquility and comfort.

Beige (natural) is also found on the warmer side of the color spectrum and can be used to reduce stress and anxiety.

In addition to the paint, you can might also consider Wallpaper with residential colors and patterns that can bring a comfortable ambiance and an eclectic style to your waiting room and, even if wallpaper isn’t part of the style you’re going for, artwork can spruce up a waiting room just the same. The more you can do to add warmth and color to the atmosphere, the better. With these options for your walls covered, the next thing to look at is your floor.

Wood flooring can evoke a calming and relaxing mood and can even further enhance the overall warmth of the room.

Carpet can be more effective if you’re trying to achieve a living room setting.



2 What’s that noise?

Just as sight can affect how we feel, so too can sound. The noise that comes from a dental practice such as the sound of the drill, conversations between patients and dentists, or even just heavy footsteps on the floor can activate stress hormones. These noises can’t be helped; they are a part of the dental practice, but there are ways you can reduce this anxiety.

Music, gentle and serene, can overpower the fear-inducing noises that come from a busy office. It’s no surprise that music has healing effects and provides a decent distraction for your patients.

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Nature sounds are used in many massage therapy centers and health spas to  help their clients de-stress. This can, not only reduce your patients’ anxiety, but also add to the ambiance of your waiting room.

waiting room

3 What is it I’m feeling?

Now that you’ve established your design, utilizing two of  the four senses important to the layout of your waiting room, it’s time to look at the sense of touch. Imperative to learning, protecting ourselves, and relating to others, no wonder touch is one of the most influential. Now, how do you appeal to your patient’s sense of touch?

Furniture is imperative to creating the most comfortable atmosphere for your patients. We now know that hard plastic chairs give a bad first impression, but that doesn’t necessarily rule chairs out completely. As in a living room setting, soft cushioned chairs can help a patient feel more at ease. Even better would be comfortable arm chairs and couches. When patients feel more at home, they feel more open and in control.   

Magazines and books readily available for your patients’ busy hands to hold will give them just the distraction they need; not only are they something to hold, but they are also something to read.

Brochures are an option for those people who need to be informed. The more they know, the better prepared they feel they will be.  



4 What’s that smell?

Unlike all the other senses, smell does not have to jump through hoops to get to the emotional center of your brain. The cells in your nose send signals directly to the olfactory bulb in the limbic system, a system responsible for the fear emotion. So when a nervous patient walks into the office and smells sterile air and the certain chemicals that dentists use, that fear can immediately be triggered. Below are a few options to consider in order to ease and comfort the patient.

  • Orange-smelling products and aromatherapy have a pleasant smell and can assist in reducing anxiety and calming the nerves.
  • Coffee or tea in a waiting room can also contribute to the stress-reducing smell, making the patient feel more at home.

By designing or redesigning with these tips in mind, instead of transmitting negative messages about you and your dental practice, your waiting room will work for you by encouraging and relaxing your patients while they wait. A picture says a thousand words, and in this case, you want that picture (the design of your waiting room) to paint you in as positive a light as possible.  

Feel free to tell us some of your worst and best experiences in a waiting room. Were there any aspects of it that inspired you? What kind of stress-free environments would you recommend? Let us know.