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Thursday Troubleshooter: Dental team member's tattoo not going over well

Oct. 6, 2016
This long-time dental hygienist believes that the "tramp stamp" her younger colleague sports is distracting for patients and fellow staff members, and does not speak well of the staff's professional image.

Do you have a tough issue in your dental office that you would like addressed? Each week the experts on Team Troubleshooter will tackle those issues and provide you with answers. Send questions to [email protected].

QUESTION: I read the article on DIQ about how important it is to dress professionally in the dental office. I believe we have a little problem with this in our office. I'm a hygienist who has been in this office for 35 years. We recently hired a 30-year-old assistant who has several tattoos. The one that shows is the "tramp stamp," based on how the article described low riding pants and short tops. When she is sitting and assisting in the chair, and when she bends over, the tattoo shows. She is a good assistant, but she likes to get people's attention and reactions. Her tattoo bothers not only me, but some patients have also commented on it to me.

I haven't discussed this issue with anyone because as you know, women can be gossipy. The dentist has seen the tattoo because he jokingly commented on it. I wish I could tell him it bothers people but I don't know how, and I wish someone else would talk to him. I don't want to be the tattletale because I've been in the office the longest and I don't want people to think I'm a complainer. What would your recommendation be on this matter? Thank you!

Yes, the times they are a changin’ for sure. The generation clashes are occurring in many dental practices. I recently attended the AADOM meeting and one of the discussions was about the new option for low rider uniform pants. There must be a demand for them or companies would not make them. (They might work in ortho or pedo practices.)

There are several things to consider on this topic. First, the generation breakdown—people's different values and different expectations might be a good topic for a discussion in your practice before you tackle the sticky uniform topic. Here is a broad generational breakdown:
Gen Z, Centennials, or Nexters: Born 1996 and later
Millennials or Gen Y: Born 1977 to 1995
Gen X: Born 1965 to 1976
Baby Boomers: Born 1946 to 1964
Traditionalists or Silent Generation: Born 1945 and before

You can do some Google research and find more about each of these groups. Share the facts and then have a discussion about the differences. Discuss who you all are as a team. If your practice is the age you say and several team members are long timers, then you probably have a lot of baby boomers as employees and patients. Baby boomer attire expectations are very different from millennials, etc.

Second, learn the patient majority with a quick computer report on your practice demographics. This report is called Patient Analysis or Patient Demographics. It will tell you what generation most of your patients are. Discuss with the team the expectations of that group when they visit a professional dental practice. Then that should become the standard to use as you develop a dress uniform.

Third, together with the team, gather uniform catalogs or go online and look at what is appropriate for your patients' expectations. Dental teams have to consider the customer service part of any decision in the practice. The attire of the team is an internal marketing decision. If a large majority of your patients are turned off by low rider pants that expose tattoos, then that is what is called un-marketing.

Fourth, once you have a uniform standard, it should become a part of your office personnel manual and be used in the interview and as a written protocol for the practice. This takes it out of gossip or complaining and into a standard for all.

Fifth, and the most critical, share this article with your dentist owner about how to make the change and get his approval first. If he is not willing to uphold a new dress code standard, then you are whistling in the wind since it is his practice and he is the one who makes the uniform guidelines.

ANSWER FROM ANGELA CLAYTON, Clayton Consulting Services:
If your office has not done so already, implementing a standard dress code is a must. When you do, keep in mind that less is always more. Keeping a professional appearance at all times should be a protocol that is enforced. My suggestion would be to go directly to your doctor or office manager and explain your concern, and remain positive during the conversation. Avoid talking with other team members about this issue because gossip has no benefit whatsoever.

Remind your management team that you take pride in the fact that your practice provides quality care to patients. Keeping a neat, clean, and professional appearance speaks volumes for the type of practice you are and helps set your team apart from the rest. It shows that your team takes pride in how you carry yourselves and that you value and respect each other and your delivery of care to your patients. If the office doesn't do so already, see if the team is willing to create a uniform policy structured so that the entire team is provided a specific number of uniforms per year. But first have a detailed dress code in place that covers all aspects, including uniform tops, pants, lab jackets (cotton or disposable), shoes, hair, nails, jewelry, and makeup. Lab jackets can keep "eyesores," in this case alower back tattoo, covered and keep your clinical team in OSHA compliance.

Once the dress code is in place (don't forget to put it in writing) have an office meeting and present the new or refreshed protocol to the entire team. Your team will feel more confident and comfortable when looking their best. Take a team picture and place it on the practice website and post it to office social media outlets to remind everyone how awesome the team is. This approach should help avoid a direct personal attack of the team member who frequently reveals her tattoo. If this doesn't work, then your doctor or office manager should privately discuss the matter with the team member. Good luck!

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