Are Piercings and Tattoos Acceptable in the Dental Workplace?

Posted by Amy Carbone on Aug 13, 2019 9:30:00 AM

The number of healthcare professionals with tattoos and piercings is growing. What does this mean for your dental practice and how do you decide what is (and isn't) acceptable? 

Tattoo & Piercing Statistics

Did you know that 42% of adults are tattooed and 83% of Americans have had their ears pierced? With nearly half the adult population sporting body modification, ideas -- and workplace policies -- on tattoos and piercings are changing.

According to a survey conducted by STAPAW, a grassroots body modification advocacy group:

  • 73% of people say that they would choose to hire an employee that had a visible tattoo
  • 6% of people who have tattoos say that they would not choose to hire an employee that had a visible tattoo 
  • 76% of people say that having visible tattoos and piercings hurt your chances of getting a job
  • 4% of people said that their tattoos and piercings caused them to be discriminated against in their current workplace

Since 2007, the popularity of tattoos has increased by 13%, and the number of people with more than one tattoo has doubled. Although many employers still have traditional views about whether tattoos and piercings are acceptable in the workplace, it's important to note that people are choosing to get inked regardless.

Can Employers Discriminate Against Employees with Tattoos?

Generally, employers have the legal freedom to create dress code policies that prohibit tattoos and piercings in the workplace under one main condition: as long as doing so doesn't discriminate against a person based on a protected status like race, religion, gender, disability, or age.

Common Tattoo & Piercing Policies for Dental Professionals

Tattoo and piercing policies differ from practice to practice, however, there are some more common ones:

Tattoo Policies

Tattoo restrictions in a dental practice might include: 

  • No tattoos on the hands, face, or neck
  • No offensive tattoos
  • A limit on the number of visible tattoos

In some cases, a dental practice will prohibit tattoos entirely, however, this is becoming less common as tattoos become more acceptable in a variety of different workplaces.

Tattoos and piercings in dental workplace

Piercing Policies

Common piercing restrictions in the dental workplace include:

  • No piercings other than the ears (females)
  • Cartilage piercings only, such as the upper ears or nose
  • Earrings must be under a certain size

Very rarely will a dental practice prohibit all piercings, since earlobe piercings are so common. Dental hygienists and assistants may be restricted to what type of jewelry they can wear altogether during dental procedures, especially when in a clean or sterile environment.

How to Develop a Tattoo & Piercing Policy for Your Dental Practice

If you don't have a policy on body modifications yet, you need to create one. If yours is outdated, it's time for a refresher. Here are a few tips on how you can develop an up-to-date tattoo and piercing policy for your dental office:

Decide On the Image You Want Your Dental Practice to Project

Think about the image you want patients to have of your practice. Do you want your practice to come across as professional and upscale, or do you prefer a more relaxed, open-minded and friendly vibe? What makes your patients most comfortable during stressful dental visits? Do you want to appeal or relate to patients with body modifications? 

Consider how you want patients, and subsequently your community, to see your office.

tattoos and piercings in dental workplace

Consider What Types of Body Modifications You Might Allow

Ask yourself what types of body modifications do (or don't) align with your practice image. Are you comfortable with your staff having ear piercings and not much else? Are tattoos and piercings off your radar as long as they're unobtrusive? Or, are you sporting a full tattoo sleeve yourself?

Remember that your practice generally can instigate any dress code you wish, which includes tattoos, as long as it doesn't discriminate against employees or applicants based on protected statuses. 

So, if you prefer staff to have no visible tattoos or piercings, you can certainly do that. However, it's also important to remember that as the popularity of tattoos and piercings rise, you will see more qualified employees with tattoos and piercings and fewer qualified employees without them. A hard-line policy could prevent you from hiring the most qualified candidates for the job.

Create a Written Policy and Provide it to Existing and New Employees

Once you've decided on a policy, make sure to put it in writing. Add it to your employee handbook and redistribute copies to all current employees. Consider requiring existing and new employees to sign a sheet stating that they received and understand the guidelines.

The number of people with body modifications is continuing to grow, so before you put your policy in ink, make sure you're considering the potential limits it could place on hiring quality employees. Having a tattoo or a piercing is no longer (if it ever was) an accurate indicator of an employee's ability, skill and work ethic.

So Are They, Or Aren't They?

Are tattoos and piercings acceptable in the dental workplace? It depends. You'll find a wide variety of dental offices that allow body modifications and ones that don't. It's up to you to decide if you'll allow your staff to have visible piercings and tattoos in your office, and if so, up to what point.

Dentist People Management

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Topics: Dental Practice Business Tips