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Ask an assistant: Can office sub long-sleeve t’s for lab jackets?

May 20, 2021
Wearing long-sleeve t-shirts under scrubs seems like it wouldn't be a big deal—but does that qualify as proper PPE? Sources have different ideas.
Have a problem or concern in your dental office? Send it to "Ask an assistant" at [email protected]. Tija Hunter will help you with your issue. All questions will remain anonymous.

QUESTION: Our office currently wears lab jackets, but we want to switch to scrub tops with long-sleeve undershirts. We’re having trouble finding information about this. Some sources say it’s OK, and some make it seem like it might not be a good thing. Can we forego wearing lab jackets as long as we have on long sleeves?

Dental personal protective equipment, including our gowns, acts as a barrier between our skin and all the spatter we come in contact with daily. That spatter could potentially contain an infectious disease, and we need to protect ourselves from that. None of our skin should be exposed. 

Our PPE should also be fluid resistant, and the problem with those long sleeve t-shirts under jackets is that they are not fluid resistant. They usually absorb moisture instead of resisting it. 

Generally, protective gowns should have long sleeves, high necks, and should cover our knees when we’re sitting chairside. If you choose to wear a short gown that’s more hip length, then your scrub pants that cover your lap should be considered PPE and be laundered as such. Proper laundering means using an in-house laundry facility or sending items out to a laundry service. No PPE should be worn outside of the building. 

I totally get it. Our PPE is a lot, we get hot in it, and it’s hard to move in. The truth is that it protects us, and not just us. Our PPE protects everyone we come in contact with including our family members when we wear something home that we shouldn't. I hope this helps you make a decision.

This article first appeared in the Dental Assisting Digest newsletter. To subscribe, visit dentistryiq.com/subscribe.

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We welcome any question or concern. The important thing to remember is that you're not alone. Send it to [email protected]. To read past columns, visit dentistryiq.com and search for "ask a dental assistant" or “ask an assistant.”

About the Author

Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA

Tija Hunter, CDA, CDIA, CDIPC, CDSH, CDSO, EFDA, MADAA, is a member and former vice president of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), where she holds the honor of Master. She is the director of the Dental Careers Institute, a dental assisting and dental continuing education program, and the author of seven continuing education study courses. She is an international speaker and a certified trainer in nitrous oxide in several states. She can be reached at [email protected].

Updated January 12, 2024