Orthodontic Clinics: All Smiles

Dental offices have always carried a certain amount of negative association, made worse lately thanks to pandemic-related hygiene concerns. Two new projects aim to straighten those out through sensitive design interventions.

Shortly after the pandemic brought most indoor services in Canada to a halt, dental and orthodontic clinics were some of the first of those services to resume. Often guided by new sanitation and safety standards, they had to safely care for clients in an environment where the risk of COVID-19 transmission could be high.

Two clinics that opened near the beginning of the pandemic managed to attract new clientele and set them at ease at a time when a routine visit could be fraught with anxiety. They did it, in part, with help from interior designers.

With Superkids Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics in Toronto’s Junction district, Plant Architect Inc. gives dentistry a bold, fun and dynamic treatment, while designer ​​Mohammad Eimar abandons the cold, sterile design common to dental offices in favour of curves and warm tones for Braces Plus Orthodontics, in Airdrie, Alta. Both designs have earned positive feedback from happy patients, and both clinics have come safely through the pandemic.

Bold and Engaging: Superkids

On one hand, Superkids channels comic book energy through bold colours and engaging graphics on the walls, floors and ceilings (and even the name). On the other hand, Plant’s partner-in-charge for the project, Lisa Rapoport, says her team took care to keep the space sophisticated and appealing to a range of ages, a key stipulation of the clinic’s owner, Dr. Karen Stallaert. “[Karen] had this very strong and clear vision that the space should be quite sophisticated, that it should be something where you could still see your dentist when you were 16 and even after you went to university,” says Rapoport.

In the entry vestibule and the lounge, the high, exposed ceilings are painted in colour blocks that wrap down over mechanical bulkheads and beams to give a cohesive look to what could easily have been a cluttered overhead view. (Steven Evans Photography)

Colours — red, orange and two shades of blue — partly inspired by the clinic’s logo stand out against a white backdrop with a crisp, clean quality that extends throughout the clinic. “The colours are not that subtle but they’re not baby colours either,” says Rapoport. “They’re sophisticated and they’re quite well saturated so there’s a crispness against the white.”

The façade is painted with the same colour palette in a pattern resembling laser beams that wraps around to the interior. Project manager Patricia Joong says the aim is to draw people in. “We wanted to create a very dynamic procession from the outside to the inside, to draw children inside and get them excited about coming into the building,” Joong says.

From the main entry, the patient lounge opens up as a bright, lively environment for kids to explore. (Steven Evans Photography)

Oriented on a diagonal, the reception area breaks down into pockets of space that serve as clustered seating nooks, so families can sit together, separate from other groups. The reception and circulation areas are spacious and bright but not hollow or echoing, thanks to suspended acoustic baffles. All these details add up to create a space that is cool, colourful and tidy, with room to spread out.

The project was designed in 2019 and completed early in the spring of 2020. Thanks to design choices made before the world learned about COVID-19, Rapoport and Joong believe it’s proving resilient at a time when hygiene and space carry so much value.

Vibrant accent colours, a striped-and-slatted feature wall that is visible from the street, and super-graphic numbers on the treatment room doors make utilitarian materials such as drywall and painted wood look futuristic and fun. (Steven Evans Photography)

Furniture in the reception is upholstered in easy-to-sanitize PVC-free faux leather. Beyond the reception area, a clinic hallway lined with treatment rooms forms a loop around the sterilization and x-ray rooms, allowing Dr. Stallaert to enforce a one-way flow of traffic for better physical distancing. Large windows looking into the sterilization room give clients a view of the cleaning process. “It’s kind of reinforcing to parents, ‘You can watch us do our sterilization,’” Rapoport says. “The proof is here, it’s not in a back room where you have to hope they’re doing it right.”

A key challenge was to create high-impact design with quotidian materials that are inexpensive and durable. Existing terrazzo flooring is integrated with new linoleum. (Steven Evans Photography)

Warm and Curvy: Braces Plus

Where Rapoport and Joong took the concept of a traditional dental office and animated it, architectural designer Mohammad Eimer took that same concept and softened it.

Eimar had never seen a dental clinic he found pleasant. So, when he set out to design Braces Plus Orthodontics in Airdrie, Alta., he decided to create something that was in opposition to the clinics he’d seen before. “We decided to go far away from this typical image of clinics in the 20th century that is kind of too much design, and very white and bright,” says Eimer, a Palestinian-Jordanian who now works in Kengo Kuma’s Tokyo office. “This design is kind of the opposite. It’s very casual and you don’t see any right angles. Everything is very soft. The wall is folding, so it responds to the contemporary human body, because humans these days are very sensitive.”

Employing a hybrid structure of wood and metal studs, the interior structural system allows for dynamic walls expressed in poly faceted surfaces in order to ensure visibility and efficiency. (Melissa D’Souza)

Throughout the clinic, warm fabric light pendants and wood panelling, floors and shelving soften and counterbalance white walls and ceilings. From the chamfered façade to the undulating interior, curves and obtuse angles predominate over right angles. In the clinic’s one large orthodontic room, the ceiling curves down to the tops of the windows, which span most of the length of the room on one side.

Like Superkids, Braces Plus Orthodontics was designed before the pandemic and opened in the pandemic’s early days. Fortunately, it benefits from an open floor with the reception desk and enclosed brushing areas serving as islands around which traffic can easily circulate. Even the orthodontic treatment area is open, with all four of the office’s dental chairs sharing one space, albeit at intervals of more than six feet.

The wooden surfaces along with customized furniture gently mark off spaces, while incorporating important functions utilized in the operation the clinic. (Melissa D’Souza)

While Eimer’s client and brother, Dr. Hazem Eimer, initially expressed trepidation about having the chairs in one open room, they stuck to the design plan. The clinic opened during the first wave of the pandemic and the response from clients has been overwhelmingly positive. “Sometimes I check Google reviews and people say, of course they like the service, but they say it looks beautiful,” says Eimer. “I’m quite happy that people are feeling positive about it.”