Yep, for most of my third year of dental school training, I had a beard.
In total, I had kept it growing for eight months – and it got big!
I did try to keep it looking somewhat smart and presentable: there were occasional visits to barbershops to have it trimmed and shaped up, I used to shampoo it with a sandalwood-fragranced special beard shampoo once a week and tried to run some tea tree-fragranced beard oil into it most days after showering. Plus I bought a moustache comb and coarse beard brush from Amazon. Did all of this make a difference? I think so, but it still looked messy and was difficult to tame.
Why did I grow a beard? That’s a very good question. But, it is one that I do not have a very good answer for… The truth is, there is no real reason why I chose to grow one. Unsurprisingly, I was often asked, “why?”, but always gave a pathetic, unconvincing answer.
My timing seemed to coincide beautifully with the new bearded man emoji on smartphones, so, that got used a lot!
It was not the first time I have grown a beard, and it is unlikely to be the last. I would like to think, however, that there will be no more beards for me – at least not in the near future. Perhaps when I am older (hopefully wiser) and some of my hairs go white, when I’ve reached that distinguished “salt and pepper” stage I will grow one again.
When it comes to dentistry, having a beard is not ideal. And, as a dental student who had only recently started seeing patients and gaining clinical experience, it got in the way a bit…
Doubling up on the PPE
Once it had reached a significant size, after a few months, I had to start wearing two masks as part of my PPE (personal protective equipment). This got a little annoying for me on many occasions having to tie two around the back of my head then positioning each of them to cover a different part of the beard. No one told me to do this, but, I do think that had I not proactively started ‘double-masking’, one of the nurses or clinical tutors would have asked me to do so, and I wanted to pre-empt that to make it my own decision. And of course, I did not want any of the patients I saw to make comment on it.
I’ll be the first to point out that this ‘double-mask’ also looks utterly ridiculous.
Paediatric Patients and the Beard
Having recently started seeing children for dental treatment in the paediatric dental clinics, I became aware that my appearance may not be ideal for developing professional relationships with younger patients. Appearances can make a big difference with children, especially when it comes to dentistry since many parents will be bringing their nervous/anxious child in for an introductory appointment – having never been to see a dentist before. These first impressions can have a significant impact that we as dental professionals must appreciate, and it would not be ideal for a 4/5/6-year-old to come in to be greeted by an unfamiliar bearded adult. This is from my own experiences at least. Now, to elaborate further I should add that I did not feel that my facial hair affected my learning experiences in paediatric dentistry, but I feel that moving forward into my fourth year of training (without a beard), I will be able to more quickly develop connections with children in clinic who see me as a more approachable figure – the beard felt like an early barrier for me. We should never judge or discriminate against anyone based on their appearance, but the reality is that children sometimes do.
Some of the patients I saw must have been terrified initially and asked their mum/dad/guardian if they could never come back to see the scary caveman dentist…
Appearances and Professionalism
Professionalism in dentistry is an eternally relevant and important topic. Throughout dental school training, we are constantly reminded and taught about our duty to maintain professionalism at all times. The concept of professionalism is a very dynamic one that encompasses many things, one of which is our appearance as dental professionals.
Whilst there may be no guidelines on facial hair specifically when in a dental setting, there are widely accepted expectations for dental professionals to be presentable. This covers many aspects, such as cleanliness (personal hygiene), what we wear and even things like jewellery/makeup/piercings/tattoos etc. No one should be judged based on their appearance, but people do. Patients, prospective clients, colleagues and employers will all have some levels of judgement and subconscious discrimination based on an individual’s appearance, and assumptions made about someone’s perceived level of professionalism. This is just something for us all to be aware of…
I mentioned earlier in this post about how I made efforts to ensure my beard was tidy, clean and presentable. I did this first and foremost for myself, as I wanted it to look good. My efforts to groom my beard demonstrated to anyone who came across me that I was clearly making an effort and this translates into an appropriate professional presentation. Because had I let it grow out and neglected it, I would have looked terrible and incredibly messy – this would certainly have put patients off and would have meant it would be a talking point in the dental school, in a negative way.
I’m happily now beard-free again! It took me a few days after shaving it off to get used to what my face looks like since I had gotten so familiar with the bearded look. I shaved it off a couple days’ after finishing BDS3 and just in time for the start of my summer break. The truth is, a beard works well in the colder, winter months but is rather unbearable during the warm summer months – and this year the UK summer is unexpectedly hot (I’m not complaining)!
We should all be able to do whatever we want to with our own bodies. We should all be able to dress how we choose to. We should all be able to express ourselves. Afterall, we are all unique individuals, with our own styles, beliefs and opinions. In dentistry, I will always say that if someone is professional, passionate and does a good job doing what they do, it should not matter what they look like.
And as dental students, most of us are young adults with our recent independence, still figuring out our own styles and way.
You be you.