We’ve only just met, Jennifer Plotnick and I, and yet her face is looming incredibly close to mine and she has her fingers in my mouth. This is because Jennifer Plotnick is a dentist, but this dental appointment is unlike any I’ve ever had — and not only because it’s doubling as an interview.
First of all, Plotnick — the owner of Grand Street Dental — is a woman in a field that’s more than 70 percent male, and second, at 35, she’s younger than it seems any dentist should be (though they must all start somewhere). “Was there anything in your past cleanings that bothered you?” she asks as I gawk at her chic leather loafers, which she’s wearing without socks, exposing her bare ankles beneath the rolled-up cuffs of a pair of patchwork jeans, the kind you’re more likely to find on someone accustomed to being photographed for street-style blogs than on someone who enjoys scraping plaque off teeth.
But what’s most unusual is Plotnick’s office, which she designed and which could be easily mistaken for a yoga studio or sundries shop here in the heart of Williamsburg, still reigning supreme as Brooklyn’s biggest punch line of a neighborhood. There’s no furniture plainly ordered from a medical-supply company, no 1980s-holdover framed posters of cartoon toothbrushes admonishing you to floss regularly, no fluorescent bulbs glaring in windowless rooms. Instead, the high-ceilinged, parquet-floored waiting area is accessible directly from the street and flooded with sunlight, perfect for the serious collection of succulents, which are “Putnam and Putnam” — as in the fashion-world-darling floral designers, who are friends of Plotnick’s and traded the plants for dental work. The furniture, including an oatmeal-colored sofa that she bought barely used on Craigslist before she’d even signed a lease, is Herman Miller. The solid-wood front desk, cabinetry, and bookshelves, painted in perfect eggshell shades, are custom-made; the books (The Art of Collage, Inside the Studio) and various carefully arranged objets (a rock painted with a smiley face, a cylindrical wood-capped water pitcher) are from her personal collection. Art by her husband, a conceptual still-life photographer named Kent Rogowski, hangs on almost every whitewashed wall, along with works by Stephen Powers and KAWS.
And as I recline in one of her three semi-private, airy, skylit examination rooms, we’re listening to the mid-aughts indie hit “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John on the sound system overhead (“We have about six playlists, all of which will be available on Spotify,” she tells me, including one called “Funky Breath,” featuring Marvin Gaye and Sharon Jones) while looking together at X-rays of my teeth. “Do you notice your sinus, over here?” she says cheerfully. “You could have a little cold coming on. So have a little oregano oil. We have some in the back, we can dose you up.” It’s not the sort of thing I’d ever expected to hear at the dentist — and exactly the sort of haute homeopathy I’ve read dozens of times while perusing labels at organic-juice bars or scrolling through Goop. The hand soap in Plotnick’s bathroom is — what else? — Aesop, and the artisanal dental-floss samples she gives to patients at the end of appointments (in a brown paper bag ink-stamped with her logo) are made with coconut oil. In other words, Plotnick is no ordinary dentist; she’s a hipster dentist.
Hipster can be hard to parse these days, but if the word signifies anything in 2017, it may be an adherence to the omnipresent Scandinavia–meets–Joshua Tree aesthetic that often accompanies a rigorously documented, wellness-driven lifestyle. It’s clean lines and cacti and smoothie bowls, and a belief in the idea that “self-care” extends to every aspect of your life and thus that every “space” you inhabit should be calm and cool and impeccably staged and designed, ready for the Instagramming. Including, now, the dentist’s office.
Instagram, of course, is how I discovered Plotnick, thumbing idly through the explore tab. The Grand Street Dental account showcases carefully framed and filtered photos of the office; selfies of Plotnick and her all-female staff (her tattooed office manager, Kris, has an undercut and moonlights as an LGBTQ activist and a singer); portraits of well-dressed cool-girl patients like Julia Sherman, the artist known for her blog Salad for President.
There are hardly any pictures of teeth on @grandstreetdental, and it’s jarring when they do appear. More often there are witty, dentistry-suggestive conceptual still lifes, which Plotnick finds online or works with Rogowski to shoot in the studio they’ve set up in the basement, captioned with tips and fun facts. (“Nighttime grinding can do as much damage as 900 pounds of pressure!”) These have in fact gotten so popular on dentistry Instagram (which more often involves horrifying before-and-after shots of dental work) that Plotnick recently had to send a cease-and-desist letter to another dentist who used one without her permission.
The photos are not just for Instagram: An image Rogowski shot of an antique fork with its prongs bent out of shape, stark against a millennial-pink background, will be repurposed for a custom trifold the couple is designing for the office to educate patients about Invisalign. For a trifold about teeth-whitening, they plan to photograph objects that are normally yellow (a banana, a rubber duck) and turn them white. She and Rogowski are working on their own line of toothpaste and mouthwash, too, and they’ve designed their own No. 2 pencils, printed with taglines like IF YOUR TEETH ARE THIS COLOR CALL US. “We probably need more of a life,” Plotnick says, laughing. But “all that money that most practices are gonna put toward their mailers and SEO and all that? This is my SEO.”
The long-standing joke about dentists, of course, is that they’re horrible. Things that come to mind when we think of dentistry: Novocain, root canals, torture. But Plotnick grew up absolutely loving her dentist, a woman who happened to be her next-door neighbor in Westchester: “I was so relaxed I would fall asleep in her chair,” she remembers. Plotnick was always creative and liked working with her hands, but she was drawn to science too. In college, after dabbling in psychology and Mandarin, she found her way to dentistry and has been rejecting the stereotypes of her profession ever since. (Although, in classic dentist fashion, she asks me questions while my mouth’s full of equipment.)
Plotnick is not alone in this push to make the dentist’s office more stylish: There are a handful of other practices with similarly design-centric spaces in cities like Portland and San Francisco, and a Manhattan dentist named Avo Samuelian, whose office boasts a serious art collection, is popular in the fashion world. But Plotnick makes a good ambassador for the movement. “You can be cool and competent! You can wear jeans and be trusted!” she insists. You can clean teeth while humming along to Radiohead while your patient wears the office’s Beats by Dre headphones to watch Big Little Lies on a monitor attached to the chair. And why shouldn’t a dentist’s office be aesthetically pleasing? Dentistry is vital to physical health, despite the fact that it’s been so divorced from other fields of medicine, but dentistry is cosmetic too. Your teeth are “your CV,” Plotnick says earnestly as we chat, post-cleaning, at her Herman Miller desk, empty but for the remnants of her grain-bowl lunch. “When you’re smiling, this is everything.”
*This article appears in the April 3, 2017, issue of New York Magazine.