In response to Heidi Emmerling Jones` Commentary on field attire in the dental office (March 1996), I strongly disagree with her position that, in order for a hygienist to be viewed by others as a professional, she should wear anything, from cowboy attire to business suits, as along as it is not white.
In 1990, I began my first position as a hygienist. My employer requested I, as well as the dental assistants in our office, should wear casual dress clothes instead of uniforms. I found this practice impractical and often ruined clothes because of fixer stains and repeated washings. For the past two years, I have worn colorful scrubs and lab coats, and have found them serviceable, comfortable, and replacement costs are much less when they wear out.
Most health professionals would agree one should not wear the same clothes in a clinic situation that you would use for street wear.
Uniforms give a sense of cleanliness as well as professionalism. I feel it sets me apart from the assistants in our office in a positive way.
Practicing dental hygiene in an atmosphere of splattering saliva, ultrasonic aerosols, blood, chemical disinfectants, and developers, I find her choice of proper attire a poor one. I see no reason for a hygienist to dress in an improper manner as some dentists choose to do, if she is proud of her profession.
Tammara Harbaugh, RDH
Editor`s note: Because of the last paragraph in Ms. Harbaugh`s letter, we invited Ms. Jones to respond directly. Heidi wrote: "Thank you for responding to my article. Since you choose to wear colorful scrubs, we agree with the focus of the article: cleanliness and professionalism are not contingent on wearing white. I applaud you for finding a way to represent yourself as the distinctive professional that you are.
"As a practicing clinical hygienist, I share your concern that we have occupational exposure to biohazardous materials. Therefore, I would like to emphasize that I do not advocate the unsafe and illegal practice of wearing any type of clothing - either street clothes or personal uniforms/scrubs - without the coverage of a protective lab coat or gown.
"As mentioned in my article, my employers provide gowns that extend from my neck to my calves, covering and protecting whatever street clothes I choose to wear underneath. The gowns are provided, laundered or disposed of, and replaced by the employer.
"The issue of wearing short clinic jackets is problematic. According to OSHA, these are supposed to be satisfactory. Personally, I agree with you that, when worn with a short jacket, the pants are probably exposed to contaminants.
"However, wearing uniforms, even if they`re white, does not "ward off" the contaminants. Wearing uniforms does not make it okay for employees to personally launder them if they are contaminated - this is no more acceptable than wearing and laundering bloodied and soiled street clothes.
"I would like to see OSHA mandate as personal protective equipment to be provided, laundered, and replaced by the employer either 1.) short jackets and pants or 2.) long coats or gowns. Some employers voluntarily provide pants or full scrubs for the entire staff, including the employer, which is wonderful. Many do not.
"Since providing scrubs or pants is not an OSHA mandate, the solution I see is opting for long coats or gowns being worn over whatever you choose to wear underneath, be it my preference for casual attire or your choice for colorful scrubs.
"For more information on personal protective equipment, I recommend OSHA publication #3129, "Controlling Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens in Dentistry."