News + Issues

Tattoos in dentistry: self expression or unprofessional?

dental-tattsWhen I tell people I have a tattoo the first thing I see are widened eyes followed by shocked gasps. “What!” they exclaim “you have a tattoo? Where?”

Their opinion of me automatically changes within those first few minutes after the revelation. I suddenly transform from the boring dental student to the rebellious night-crawler.

Tattoos have a long history since the first evidence of their existence dating back to 2000 B.C. in Ancient Egypt. In the past tattoos may have served as amulets, status symbols, declarations of love, signs of religious beliefs, adornments and even forms of punishment, today they are a common form of personal expression. In recent years, tattoos have been shunned in religious sects, certain countries, workplaces and professional schools. Displaying inked art has even been frowned upon in dental schools, including West Virginia School of Dentistry where students are required to cover their tattoos in order to present a more professional face to patients (West Virginia Dental Professionalism).

While these measures may seem far-fetched to some, I believe they are quite justified. Forbes may claim “tattoos are no longer a kiss of death in the workplace” but they are within the realm of dentistry. As we train to become health professionals, we must maintain a more conservative appearance in order to avoid judgment from our colleagues, instructors and patients. I shudder to think what my geriatric patients would do if they saw a tattoo sleeve across my arm, when they barely acknowledge my “young” advice on their treatment.

Even though I chose to ink my body last year, I decided to do so in a more concealed place. This has not only allowed me to appear professional in public but it has also strengthened the significance behind my tattoo. Tattoos, after all, are a personal form of expression with an emphasis on personal. While it may feel great to flaunt rare hieroglyphics on your body, similar to the way most dental students flaunt esoteric tooth preparations, I prefer to keep mine a bit more private.

What are your opinions on tattoos and dental professionals? Are you a dental student with tattoos? Also check out Patrice Smith’s previous post on this matter back in 2011.

~Lalita Nekkanti Tufts ’16, contributing editor 


Lalita Nekkanti

Lalita Nekkanti is in the class of 2015 at Tufts School of Dental Medicine. She is a 2014-15 contributing editor and chair of her chapter's Health and Wellness Committee.

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  1. Interesting article. I would rather have my staff have them covered up only because coming to the dentist office can be a very traumatic and then seeing someone with tattoos that is about to work on a patient can make their experience even more traumatic. First impressions still to this day makes a huge impact on how others perceive you.

  2. I agree that they should be covered up. I just feel it is more professional.

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