No teeth means no job: How poor oral health impacts job prospects

By:  Mercedes White

Earlier this year, the managers at a Salt Lake City counseling office were struggling to fill a position at their front desk. They'd blazed through a string of potential candidates sent by a staffing agency, but none had the qualifications they were looking for. And then the agency sent a candidate named Shelly (not her real name), a 35-year-old mother of three who'd re-entered the work force because her husband was laid off.

“Everyone in the office loved her, ” recalls Miriam Brown, who also worked the front desk. As a temporary employee, Shelly was pleasant to work with, competent and kind to the patients. “We all told our boss to hire her because she was so great."

Instead, management hired someone else.

At a staff meeting, Brown asked her manager why Shelly wasn’t hired permanately. The response shocked everyone in the room. The office manager said Shelly had bucked and crooked teeth. “He said it wasn’t the image we wanted to project at our clinic,” Brown said.

This is not an isolated incident. Studies show bad teeth prevent otherwise qualified candidates from getting jobs or promotions. Although the U.S. is on the cutting edge of innovations in dentistry, many Americans have poor oral health and crooked or missing teeth and don't go to the dentist because they don’t have insurance and can’t afford to pay out of pocket for care. The scope of the problem is widespread: close to half of Americans are without dental insurance, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.