is my dental problem scaring off employers?

A reader writes:

I’ve been troubled by a recent dental accident that’s left me with a noticeable piece missing from a front tooth.

I’ve been unemployed (except for temp work) for almost two years due to a layoff and have been rejected by several companies because I am “overqualified” (with a possible factor of being 58). Now I have this physical defect to add to my nervousness if I actually get to the interview stage. I am barely scraping by on my bills and have no insurance to cover a dental repair. The occupations I’m most qualified for are those involving face-to-face contact with clients and I can’t help but think that my current appearance is detrimental to my chances of employment.

How can this be explained or downplayed to a potential employer? It’s not one of those no-one-else-would-notice things. I’m worried that it marks me as someone who doesn’t care about their appearance or is unprofessional, or that I represent an undesired load on their health plan because I would have the work done as soon as possible.

I once interviewed a guy who was missing an entire front tooth. He told me as we were shaking hands that he was in the midst of having dental work done and that he was embarrassed about the tooth. And I didn’t really think anything about it after that (aside from “that sucks, poor guy”). We’ve all had dental stuff happen or known people who have suffered through it.

I would take the same approach this guy took and just address it right up-front. Say something at the outset like, “I’m a bit embarrassed about this, but I had a recent dental accident and the work to fix it isn’t finished yet.” There’s something about saying you’re embarrassed that makes people want to set you at ease and prove to you that there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. In fact, I suspect it actually makes people who otherwise might have been judgmental less likely to be.

I wouldn’t worry at all that employers are calculating the impact of that dental work on their health insurance. The ethics of that calculation aside, something like that is unlikely to impact their rates anyway.

By the way, I do wonder if your self-consciousness about the tooth is affecting your confidence and the way you interview, or even making you less likely to smile, so pay special attention to that. Good luck!

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 15 comments… read them below }

  1. Sabrina*

    I had a coworker who stayed at a job working for a dentist because her husband was a salesman and needed similar work done to his front teeth. Once his teeth were fixed, she was out of there. It might not be totally out of left field to be worried about something like this. I don't apply for receptionist jobs in part because I'm fairly certain companies don't want fatties at their front doors. Anyway, you might be able to get cheaper dental work done at a dental college. Just a thought. Good luck. :)

    1. Anonymous*

      I almost fell out of my chair laughing. By the way, I perform receptionist functions at my current place of employment and I’m a total fatty.

  2. class factotum*

    I echo what Sabrina said about going to the dental college. (Hopefully, there is one in your area.) I had my tooth replaced at the dental school in Memphis: $600 vs $4,000 for a private dentist. The labor was free, the $600 was for the titanium implant. I got in quickly because there are not so many people needing implants, so the oral surgeons have a hard time finding patients to practice on.

    Don't worry about the students: they are already dentists who have returned to school to become oral surgeons. Good luck.

  3. GC {God's Child}*

    good advice I think.
    Maybe people don't even admit to themselves they are thinking about your dental problem. . .nobody likes to think of themselves as a big meanie who is judging you on your appearance. . .
    and some are and don't care but they are jerks
    good luck finding a solution

  4. Karen F.*

    Whether it's a dental problem or some other kind of noticeable flaw, that should not deter you from getting out there and showing potential employers what you've got to bring to the table. :-) I agree with Alison, get it out of the way at the start of the interview and wow them!

    As far as I'm concerned, an employee with a bad tooth can be fixed…but an employee with a bad attitude is harder to deal with (and would otherwise be unacceptable).

    Karen, The Resume Chick (on Google or Twitter if you need me)

  5. Kay*

    Thanks so much for the advices! It helped my self-confidence. I had two interviews over the past two days and I managed to get through them nicely. I did take AAM's advice to explain, and could see relief on the interviewer's face in one case. They were very understanding.

    I've looked into dental clinics. So far ours are overbooked and not taking new clients. But hope springs eternal, and I'll be looking into the other possibilities.

    Sabrina, don't eliminate employers because you're heavy. So am I. While I'm not naive enough to believe that size doesn't come into play at times, they're looking for someone at the front desk who dresses sharp, has an engaging personality, makes visitors feel comfortable and can talk about the company. I've seen some shapely receptionists who never should have been the first impression their company gave to people! :-)

  6. Anonymous*

    It’s interesting that you mentioned “I wouldn’t worry at all that employers are calculating the impact of that dental work on their health insurance. The ethics of that calculation aside, something like that is unlikely to impact their rates anyway.”

    I recently interviewed for a position where while on the initial phone interview I was asked what level of insurance I would need, single, family, etc. and then again at the face-to-face interview the hiring manager (who was also the HR manager) asked me the same question again. I ended up sending an email the next day requesting that they withdraw my name from consideration.

    I find it rather unethical that they would even ask a question like that at the initial stages of an interview, first off, it sends the message that if you are going to cost the organization a lot of money with your medical insurance costs they are more likely going to go with a more cost effective candidate and secondly it’s borderline illegal in Michigan because family status and material status are two of the protected classes, asking that question is a round about way to determine if you’re married or single and making a hiring decision based on that violates Michigan’s civil rights act.

  7. Kay*

    I just wanted to say thanks for the boost in confidence. It helped a lot! And I got the job!

  8. George*

    Congratulations, Kay! You got the job!

    Well, about the post. I can relate to this. I had an accident which caused my front tooth to break. And at that time, I had been scheduled for an interview. It's really embarrassing to talk to other people in that kind of situation, but, I still went to the interview and mustered up my confidence. I got the job.

    Now, I'm planning to have the chipped tooth fixed by a dentist – Myrtle Beach based so I won't be embarrassed anymore.

  9. TheLabRat*

    In response to your question on interview nervousness, yes I did see this post but most of the advice therein does not apply or work for me for various reasons. Dental accident and "teeth rotting due to lack of professional care for 15 years" are two completely different things in terms of how a potential employer views them. And alas, I've never found a dental college that would work on me. But I keep trying.

    I think I'm going to give up on my office endeavors and go back to waiting tables. I made significantly more money (25+ per hour) and could likely afford to get myself some insurance.

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