While some dental surgeries enforce a strict dress code, more and more are opting to keep things a little more casual in an attempt to create a friendlier, more relaxed environment for their patients. The ultimate aim is to move away from the white, sterile, and clinical feel, in a bid to address the fears of the 9 to 15 percent of Americans who feel anxious and nervous about visiting a dentist for a routine check up.
A vital question we need to be asking, however, is; ‘is it working?’. Is casual dress really helping to ease anxiety? Things are a little complicated when it comes to dental surgeries, and it’s important to remember that there’s a fine line between coming across as being friendly and professional, and coming across as entirely inappropriate for the environment. Professionalism is objective, so without a dress code, anything goes. At the end of the day this is, after all, a medical facility; it’s a place where patients need to have trust and confidence in their healthcare provider. Can casual clothing really help to achieve this?
What Patients Want
Studies have found that, contrary to popular belief, traditional (and somewhat stereotypical) dentist attire is actually far more beneficial in easing patient fears than casual clothing. Patients prefer a traditional white dental tunic, along with necessary safety equipment such as safety glasses and a mask. While this may sound very clinical, the addition of a name tag can help to make a dentist appear far more accessible to their patients; it helps to make a dentist more human by putting a name to the face.
Considering traditional healthcare attire is usually linked to very strict and formal environments, while casual clothing is seen as much more approachable, we have to question why it is that patients seem to prefer the more clinical look. Experts in the field believe this is because of association. Despite a dentist looking more ‘frightening’, professional attire is naturally associated with professional behavior. Quite simply, a patient is more likely to believe in the skill of the dentist, and the quality of the work, if a dentist is dressed in high quality, professional attire, as opposed to denim jeans and shirt, for example.
The Exception to the Rule
There is one area of dentistry where the professional attire rule doesn’t quite ring true; pediatric dentistry. Studies have found that the majority of children also prefer dentists to dress in traditional clothing, but this may not be the right approach for all children. Children who have previously had an upsetting experience at a dental surgery, such as treatment for an oral disease for example, or children who have had a previous instance of fear and anxiety at the dentist, often prefer a more casual style of dress. Pediatric dentists may wish to consider retaining the white tunic, but minimizing the use of attire that obstructs the face, such as glasses and masks, to ensure they’re always approachable and accessible.