Troubleshooter 5 9

Thursday Troubleshooter: Piercings and tattoos on dental office employees

May 9, 2013
Dental assistant instructor concerned about professional presentation

QUESTION: I'm a dental assistant instructor and some of the students entering the program have tattoos on their necks, arms, and hands. They also have face piercings, tongue piercings, and dermal piercings, which are surgically placed piercings in the skin on their face. I coach and try to mentor the students on proper professionalism for the dental office, and I am met with resistance from some of the students. Am I wrong, or have things changed that much during the few years I moved from a dental professional to a dental assistant instructor?

ANSWER FROM SHELLEY RENEE, Shelley Renee Consulting
Whether we like it or not, our appearance creates an impression on others. In seconds, our look evokes a response, without a single word being uttered. The question to ask is, what message or feelings are we evoking?

In recent years, starting with the generation X members, more of a tolerance has developed for inking and multiple piercings. Some corporations such as Starbucks have relaxed the dress code to appeal to their younger customer base. However, according to a 2012 Harris poll among those without tattoos, inking portrays one as less intelligent, less healthy, and less attractive.

Simply put, the dental office dress code calls for two considerations — image and safety. The image must portray to all patients that they are in the care of competent and trustworthy individuals. Inking is not congruent with the dental focus of removing stains and whitening. Also, dangly jewelry in piercings may pose a risk of injury or cross contamination.

The bottom line is that dentists have the right to require dress that reflects the professionalism of the practice. Even though there has been an increase in acceptance for some job markets, most job interview advice columns strongly advise all interviewees to cover inking and remove all piercings except for ears. The traditional advice holds true. Conservative attire befits respect in the dental industry.

As a dental assistant instructor, you are in a unique position to help your students launch a long, professional, and successful career by setting themselves apart from the rest. While their assisting skills are extremely important, their communication skills and professional image will help them rise through the ranks more quickly than their colleagues. The employees who have a polished and professional image will have more opportunities in leading dental practices.

In most cases, team members in leading practices are better compensated than in average practices. Whether we like it or not, employers and patients (people in general) make decisions based on first impressions. A good first impression may mean getting hired by an employer, or a patient accepting treatment and feeling confident about the practice. I would stress to your students that in a competitive work environment, they should stack the cards in their favor by having excellent professional skills, excellent communication skills, and a professional image.

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