Can braces be fun? Are orthodontic assistants avid crafters? At Dr. Gretchen Schnepper’s practice, The Modern Orthodontist, expectations are playfully subverted.
The Vancouver business doubles not only as an orthodontist office, but also a gallery and atelier for its patients and the local community. Inside the pristine waiting room, the spotlight is on art. Tiny, future Warhols share colored pencils with adolescent O’Keefes in training – before their orthodontic fittings or adjustments, that is.
This innate desire for kids (and their adult companions) to unplug wasn’t lost on Dr. Schnepper when she envisioned how her office might look.
“A lot of offices have video games in the waiting room, and I figured kids already get plenty of that,” she said. “Because of budget cuts or minimized art programs [at school], I figured it [art] would be a way to add that creative outlet for kids.”
With a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and a minor in art, Dr. Schnepper had considered bucking the family tradition of dentistry (both of her grandfathers as well as her father and uncle were dentists) and entering into research. Her father had also imagined she would branch out, but suggested orthodontics because of her enthusiasm for art.
“There’s more of an artistic component to orthodontics,” she said. “It’s a lot of wire bending with your hands…since I’d always grown up doing a lot of hands-on projects working with my hands, my dad suggested it.”
Nicole Sauer, an orthodontic assistant who has worked with Dr. Schnepper since 2007, explained that art is a common thread for office staffers as well.
“We always talk about how the people who are drawn to orthodontics have some kind of crafty [side]. I love scrapbooking and making cards, another girl likes bending wires for jewelry. Everyone has their own little niche,” said Sauer.
The Modern Orthodontist even publishes an annual art calendar, which Dr. Schnepper said invigorates the patients every year.
“This is the first year it was opened up to art students now that we’ve felt a really good connection with a lot of the art teachers in town,” she said. “We’ve reached out to them to see if any of their students would want to contribute. In the past it’s been solely our patients, but this year we included a mix of the community as well, which was really fun. We had some fabulous submissions. Every submission is showcased.”
Seeing their work in print has even kicked several young scribblers into high gear.
“A few kids were super excited after seeing their art in the calendar and then joined an art class at school. We already have a couple kids who have entered for next year’s contest and we haven’t even started it yet,” Sauer noted.
Further extending The Modern Orthodontist’s commitment to community art have been yearly art shows.
“One of the things I also had in mind when coming up with this theme was to make the space amenable to featuring local artists,” Dr. Schnepper. “In the spring, we do one for all of the middle schools – up to 10 local middle schools. In the fall, we do the elementary schools.”
Another initiative is the company’s Partners in Education program, which offers $100 donations to the schools or art programs of every new patient. Among the donations this year was one to Columbia Dance’s production of the Nutcracker.
After nearly doubling its staff since opening and expanding its client base, Dr. Schnepper said she plans to “continue to reach out to the community and provide a service that I think is a little bit different than your standard practice and continue to inspire and encourage people to discover more of their artistic side.
“Even parents I see out there coloring or drawing,” she added, “that’s fun to see.”
But the art isn’t the only thing that keeps patients, parents and the whole staff smiling.
“The most rewarding thing is we can really transform our patient’s lives,” said Dr. Schnepper. “If they’re shy or insecure about their smile even just once the braces go on, I hear from patients constantly how much more their children smile, show their teeth and have more confidence. It’s really rewarding to be a part of that life-changing effect.”
The Modern Orthodontist
2702 NE 78th St., Suite 106 Vancouver Founded 2010