Power dressing for the dentist

June 1, 2003
Think about the outfit you wore to work today. Was it scrubs? Perhaps a Polo shirt and chinos with sneakers? Do you remember the last time you laundered your lab coat?

S. Mark Hong, DDS

Think about the outfit you wore to work today. Was it scrubs? Perhaps a Polo shirt and chinos with sneakers? Do you remember the last time you laundered your lab coat? When was the last time you wore a lab coat? In fact, can you remember the last time you actually dressed up for work?

Most dentists tend to dress casually when treating patients, perhaps to make patients feel more comfortable and less frightened. However, I believe casual dress affects the perception of value. When you try to sell a case costing thousands — perhaps 10s of thousands — of dollars, dressing the part helps to convey how valuable your services are to your patients.

When was the last time a patient complimented you on your attire? Just as patients notice your halitosis (or lack of it) and never mention it, they also take in the way you present yourself and your wardrobe and make a judgment. To further demonstrate, I'll use the following hypothetical situation: Two dentists are each selling identical $20,000 cases, but one is presenting his case wearing scrubs, the other wearing a clean lab coat topping a shirt, tie, and dress pants. Which dentist do you think will have more success? Although there are other mitigating factors to be considered, the clothes you wear can make a difference. You should have as much invested in the clothes on your back as the watch you wear or the car you drive. Your wardrobe is an investment.

Think about this: Would you retain a lawyer or banker dressed in chinos and sneakers at the office? Lawyers and bankers generally are known as good dressers who ushered in the era of "power dressing." While power dressing for dentists does not entail pin-striped suits and bright red ties, there are some basic guidelines you can follow.

Don't wear scrubs. Unless you are a resident or work in a hospital setting, there is absolutely no reason to wear them. Yes, they are comfortable and some dentists even iron and starch their scrubs. However, scrubs tell the patient you could not be bothered to look in your closet for something else to wear. Scrubs are cheap, disposable, and look sloppy — even the ones with your name embroidered on them. Scrubs are the dental equivalent of a T-shirt and jeans.

Don't wear chinos. Chinos worn with a sweater or a buttoned-down shirt have become the de-facto "business casual" uniform. It began in the banking and law industries as "Casual Friday" and eventually spread to everyday wear made popular by the ".com" boom. However, there is now a severe backlash against casual dressing in most businesses. The new, acceptable dress code in banking and law is a tie for men, and heels for women. This should be adopted by those in the dental profession as well.

Don't wear sneakers. Yes, sneakers are comfortable and sensible, as we are often on our feet. However, this is unacceptable unless you work in a hospital because patients will notice your shoes even if you do not think they will.

Don't wear white socks with black shoes. Patients look down while they are sitting in your chair facing you, and they will notice your shoes and socks.

Do wear polished dress shoes or loafers. Women can wear anything from polished dress shoes or loafers, to flats or short heels.

Do wear a freshly laundered lab coat. Besides the obvious OSHA regulations, lab coats look professional. Patients expect dentists to look like dentists and, therefore, a lab coat is an essential part of your uniform.

Do wear dress pants. Wool gabardine dress pants will make a tremendous improvement in your appearance if you are switching from chinos. This simple change will help make you look more polished and professional.

Do wear quality dress shirts or blouses. High-quality clothing does not require an obvious or conspicuous logo in order to make a statement. Thread count means everything; there is a noticeable difference in both look and feel when comparing a $40 dress shirt to a $120 dress shirt. For basic shirts or blouses, Brooks Brothers or Thomas Pink are excellent choices. The current trend for men on Wall Street and in the law industry is a shirt with an English spread collar. Do not buy shirts with button-down collars for work. Women have far more flexibility in their choice of shirts or blouses, as they do not require ties.

Don't wear a novelty-print tie, or a tie with multiple swirling colors, a polyester tie ... or a novelty-print polyester tie with multiple swirling colors. A quality tie will exhibit good taste and complete your outfit. Ties are investments. Cheaper silk ones will not create crisp knots and tend to fray quickly. Any tie by Hermes or Salvatore Ferragamo will always be appropriate and should last for years. However, there are many companies that make silk ties in excellent fabrics and patterns. When in doubt, a solid tie or a tie with a small repeating pattern will always be a tasteful, understated choice.

Don't forget basic grooming. Due to the close physical proximity in which we work in relation to the patient, it is absolutely essential that dentists are well-groomed. This means manicures for both men and women — or at the very least — clean, short nails. Patients will notice every pore and blackhead within viewing distance, so please get facials on a regular basis. And, if you are a male dentist, be sure that you do not have the dreaded mono-brow. If necessary, please invest in a pair of tweezers.

If you incorporate any or all of these suggestions into your everyday wardrobe, your patients will look at you in a new light and, in return, treat you with greater respect. That, in turn, will lead to more referrals, increased revenue, and an enhanced reputation. While you develop your own sense of personal power-dressing style, please remember: Power dress for success!

Dr. S. Mark Hong is in private practice in Woodbury, Long Island, specializing in cosmetic and implant dentistry. Dr. Hong graduated from New York University in 1999 and completed an honors program in endodontics. He also has completed general practice residencies at Nassau County Medical Center in Long Island and Brookdale Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. He can be contacted at (516) 921-1133, or e-mail to [email protected].

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