Bulletin of Dental Education

Well Designed Spaces Support Excellence in Pediatric Care

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By Nicole Fauteux


Forty attendees at the ADEA Annual Session and Exhibition boarded a bus Saturday morning for  The Center for Pediatric Dentistry, a joint venture of the  University of Washington (UW) School of Dentistry  and  Seattle Children’s Hospital. About 20 minutes later, they disembarked in the Sand Point Naval Air Station District, a former military site not far from the UW campus that has been designated a Landmark District by the city of Seattle. Before them stood a former administrative building whose 1937 Art Deco façade gave little hint that its current occupants are hard at work most days improving the oral health of area children.

In 2010, the UW School of Dentistry moved its pediatric dental clinic to the site following a renovation that transformed the interior to reflect contemporary tastes and current trends in dental education and patient care. Blond wood cabinetry and muted colors on the floors and walls create a soothing environment. The rooms are open and bright, but the light is never glaring. Open pod bays face window walls lined with cushioned benches where parents can observe.

“It's spacious. You can breathe,” observes architect Brian Yachyshen whose firm,  Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, has designed a number of dental schools. He praised the open design, the presence of natural light, and the opportunities for patients to look out and have their parents nearby.

These attributes echo the conscious desire of the UW dental team to allay the fears of their young patients and to treat them holistically, as members of families. To this end, the clinic has a social worker on staff full time to assist families to ensure that patients are available for treatment. Seventy percent of the Center’s patients are on Medicaid, and many families have difficulties with transportation.

The facility has 26 chairs in open pod bays, four quiet rooms, and one operating room. Every station is set up to accommodate left and right-handed dentists, and monitors are mounted in the ceiling above the chairs so that patients can focus on something other than their dental work. Medically compromised patients are still seen at Children’s Hospital, where the clinic previously resided, but the space is designed to accommodate patients with disabilities, including those who rely on wheelchairs.

The move to a new building has also allowed UW to expand the number of pediatric dental residents from 6 to 13. As a result, the clinic is able to treat 100 patients a day, significantly shortening appointment wait time for patients. The building also houses a faculty practice that includes specialty clinics, and three or four times a week oral surgery is performed under general anesthesia in the OR. This integrative approach means that patients can be referred within the building for most conditions.

Elise Sarvas, D.D.S., who guided much of the tour, noted that Seattle Children’s Hospital is a magnet for pediatric patients from many states in need of care for rare or difficult-to-treat conditions. She is currently a resident pursuing master’s degrees in pediatric dentistry and public health, and she appreciates the opportunity the clinic gives her to see so many challenging patients.

“We learn how to manage them,” she says. “We don't have to refer out. We have the tools here to deal with whatever comes.”

The building also includes surprisingly cheerful space in the basement, which houses supplies, sterilization, faculty offices, desk space for residents, and dedicated space for research. The Center currently has eight active clinical research studies, and it participates in the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network.

Those on the tour appeared to be uniformly impressed. Adjectives like warm, welcoming, and inviting were audible as visitors enjoyed the generous buffet in an airy room on the facility’s top floor. Among them was Warren Brill, D.M.D., M.S. (HYG), FAAPD, President-elect of the  American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, who called the clinic a model that others might aspire to.

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