Mobile Dental Systems Vehicle Design
b. What are principles of a floor plan for a mobile vehicle?

Because the space in a mobile vehicle is naturally confined, creating fewer walls and more open space is preferable. Slide outs (expandable sides) have become standard in the recreational vehicle industry. These create more volume and can almost double the width of a mobile vehicle. However, these only have gone through research and development in the RV industry for occasional use, not during daily use in providing dental services. While the concept is an attractive one and may help in recruiting staff, the long-term wear and tear or potential for leaks needs to be better researched.

When doing an interior floor plan, consider counsel from the dental van manufacturer,especially the engineer, so you don't waste time designing something that can't be built. For example, a wheelchair lift can't be put over an axle. Functions performed in the mobile unit are still the same as those in a fixed clinic and require the same type of space--radiography, sterilization, registration, waiting area, treatment operatories.

Space issues may differ by the patient population and work sites. What size waiting room space, if any, is needed? For example, if the vehicle is at a school, you probably won't have parents in a waiting area. Type of treatment also dictates space and work surfaces needed to make the operation efficient. Dental care programs for seniors may require more laboratory space and equipment. Do you need bathroom facilities or will they be available at the work sites? Will operatories be "open bay" or walled off? Do you anticipate providing treatment planning and treatment on the same or different days? How will that impact your choice of how many x-ray units or sinks are on board?

What equipment needs ventilation or dedicated wiring? Decisions regarding equipment and equipment location need to be made prior to construction of the unit. For example, mounting an x-ray unit requires additional backing in the walls and consideration for the safety of patients and staff against exposure. Do you want speakers for music in the operatories? If so, plan for this before construction begins. The same is true for televisions in the reception area and/or operatories. Cabinets can be open-hinged from the side or top, or they can slide. Electrical outlets should be plentiful and carefully planned.

Examples of some poor design features
  • Nothing is in the same relative place in the two treatment rooms
  • Neither instruments nor materials are convenient to assistant
  • No work surface for dental assistant
  • No reception/waiting area
  • Poor visibility between rooms
  • Wasted space