The Bias of HR Professionals in Relation to Dental Appearance

Study shows the bias for job applicants face based on the quality of their smile and the importance to bring awareness among them on the issue
See UK Results See International Results

Our Study

At PlusDental, we encounter people on a daily basis who have suffered both financial and psychological scars due to a lack of accessible dental care. Research has found that not only is there a socioeconomic factor involved in dental care access and potential income, but that perception and empathy of smile aesthetics depends largely on someone’s professional and personal background. We decided to conduct our own poll on the topic to raise awareness among HR professionals about potential smile biases, in addition to furthering the discussion about how dental care accessibility plays a key factor in the wealth gap.

Before conducting our own study we reviewed countless peer-reviewed research papers on the topic and found evidence that people who receive good oral care have better career opportunities, and that socioeconomics has a big impact on access to dental care. Study findings* include:

Smiling builds trust

Smiling, from a basic level of human interaction, is important to build trust. If a job candidate has low self-esteem and tries to hide their smile, it could come across to the hiring manager as uncooperative or nervous. (1)

Good dental hygiene may correlate to income

Women who had greater access to fluoridated water during childhood earn approximately 4% more in adulthood than women who did not. (2)

Dental work and empathy

People who have undergone orthodontic treatment themselves are more empathetic towards those with dental care issues, compared to those who have never undergone such treatment. (3)

Effects of socioeconomic status

Socioeconomic status impacts a person’s dental treatment needs, with those from lower economic backgrounds exhibiting a greater need for treatment. This group are also less satisfied with their dental appearance and visited a dentist less frequently. (4)

Patterns regarding children's dental health

Children were less likely to have orthodontic treatment when parents were service or sales workers compared with children whose parents were managers or professionals. (5)

Inequality of oral health

Income consistently plays a large part in the inequality of oral healthcare as compared to education about oral health alone. This suggests improved socio-economic policies increasing material resources would do more for oral health equality than simply improving education around healthy behaviour. (6)
*All findings are paraphrased for ease of understanding. The exact quotes and sources can be found at the bottom of this page in the methodology.

Opinion Poll

Inspired by these findings, we set out to conduct our own study in the hope that we can illustrate to those in power that adequate dental care subsidies should be put in place to help those most in need. In addition, we hope that by revealing any dental bias that exists among HR professionals, we can encourage empathy and understanding around the socio-economic factors at play, and generate awareness among the industry that the focus of an interview should always be on the professional qualifications of the candidate, not their smile. The poll consisted of several questions which aimed to ascertain if there are any dental biases during the hiring process for a selection of different roles, such as sales, nursing, or telemarketing. The results reveal the extent to which biases based on dental aesthetics existed among HR professionals in these industries.

Discrimination of any kind ought to be unacceptable in modern society, yet biases based on appearance are more prevalent than ever. This poll reveals the uneasy truth that there is some unconscious bias towards more conventionally ‘aesthetic’ smiles among hiring staff. While this prejudice exists, the inequality gap in terms of both affordability and accessibility to dental care will continue to create divides in opportunity for many people around the world.

We’re committed to furthering this discussion, and while promoting anti-discrimination against smile bias may seem counterintuitive to our business model, that couldn’t be further from the truth. A happy future where anyone can afford dental care should they wish, but don’t feel that they are missing out on life opportunities if they cannot, is the one we are striving towards.

- Eva-Maria Meijnen Managing Director PlusDental

Results from UK

How important is an attractive smile for an employee's performance in the specified roles below?

Within the industry, how important is an attractive smile for the perception of a job applicant during an interview with the hiring manager in the roles specified below?

Please review the images below of two candidates with otherwise equal qualifications

A

B

How likely are you to recommend Candidate A over Candidate B for a follow-up interview in the roles below?

International results

How important is an attractive smile for an employee's performance in the specified roles below?

Within the industry, how important is an attractive smile for the perception of a job applicant during an interview with the hiring manager in the roles specified below?

Please review the images below of two candidates with otherwise equal qualifications

A

B

How likely are you to recommend Candidate A over Candidate B for a follow-up interview in the roles below?

Methodology

Sources of findings:

  1. “Smiling is frequently observed in social interactions between humans may be used as a signal of the intention to cooperate and build trust. “ Scharlemann, J., Eckel, C., Kacelnik, A. , Wilson, R. (2001) The value of a smile: Game theory with a human face. Journal of Economic Psychology 22

  2. “Women who were raised in communities with fluoridated water earn approximately 4% more in adulthood than women who were not.” Glied, S. and Neidell, M. (2008) The Economic Value of Teeth. NBER Working Paper No. 13879

  3. “Patients presented significant differences in the esthetic perception of midline diastema and gummy smile anomalies after they had completed orthodontic treatment.” Bolas-Colvee B, Tarazona B, Paredes- Gallardo V, Arias-De Luxan S (2018) Relationship between perception of smile esthetics and orthodontic treatment in Spanish patients. PLoS ONE 13(8): e0201102. https://doi.org/10.1371/ journal.pone.0201102

  4. “Subjects of low Socioeconomic Status (SES) exhibited greater normative and perceived treatment needs than subjects of higher SES. They were less satisfied with their dental appearance and visited a dentist less frequently.” Badran, S., Sabrah, A., Hadidi, S., Al-Khateeb, S. (2014) Effect of socioeconomic status on normative and perceived orthodontic treatment need. Angle Orthodontist, Vol 84, No 4

  5. “Children were less likely to have orthodontic treatment when parents were service or sales workers compared with children whose parents were managers or professionals, when family income was in the lowest, compared with highest quartile, when children had no supplementary insurance compared with children covered by private insurance, or when they lived in rural compared with urban areas.” Germa, A., Kaminski, M., Nabet, C. (2010) Impact of social and economic characteristics on orthodontic treatment among children and teenagers in France. Recherche épidémiologique en santé périnatale et santé des femmes et des enfants INSERM : U953, Université Pierre et Marie Curie.

  6. “The effect of education on income inequalities varied by oral health outcome, but income consistently explained over one third of the education effect on inequalities for the oral health outcomes used in this study. This suggests that future social and economic policy aimed at improving financial and material resources for individuals would better reduce socio-economic inequalities in oral health than those solely targeted toward changing oral health behaviour or knowledge acquisition of healthy behaviour.” Farmer, J., Phillips, R., Singhal, S., Quiñonez, (2017) Inequalities in oral health: Understanding the contributions of education and income. Can J Public Health 2017;108(3):e240–e245 doi: 10.17269/CJPH.108.5929

Poll

The poll was sent to HR professionals via a Google Form poll in the time period between January 21st and February 10th 2020. The privacy policy for the poll was as follows:

Privacy Policy

The procedure involves filling a survey that will take approximately 2 minutes. Your participation in this study is voluntary: if you choose to participate in this survey, you may withdraw at any time. Your responses will be confidential, and we do not collect information identifying respondents such as name, email address, or IP address. The results of this study will be used for an awareness-focused research project on dental health. No single response will be analysed in isolation. The collected data will only be interpreted in aggregate and will be distributed in this form to the wider media. The results will be made available online for free to be used by HR/Recruiting professionals.

The questions posed to the respondents are exactly as written on the results above, along with the same image being used for the final question. More information on the poll questions can be found below.

Poll questions

  1. Country of residence

  2. Gender (Male, Female, Non-Binary, Prefer Not to Say) N.B. This question is included only to ensure we achieve the samples size required to model a representative population–we will not publish any breakdown of the results by gender.

  3. Age. N.B. This question is included only to ensure we achieve the samples size required to model a representative population–we will not publish any breakdown of the results by age.

  4. Involvement in the recruitment/hiring process (I am a recruiter working for a firm that helps other companies fill their job openings, I am part of an internal recruitment process helping team managers fill their job openings, I am responsible for hiring for my own team only, I am not responsible for recruiting or hiring, but I am part of the HR industry, I am not part of HR industry, Other). N.B. This question is included only to ensure we achieve the samples size required to model a representative population–we will not publish any breakdown of the results by professional role.

  5. Completed Education (Less than a high school diploma, High school degree or equivalent (e.g. GED), Some college, no degree, Associate degree (e.g. AA, AS), Bachelor’s degree (e.g. BA, BS), Master’s degree (e.g. MA, MS, MEd), Professional degree (e.g. MD, DDS, DVM), Doctorate (e.g. PhD, EdD). N.B. Non-required question

  6. How important is an attractive smile for an employee's performance in the specified roles (Nurse, Programmer/IT Technician, Data Analyst/Statistician, Sales Representative, Business Management, Customer Service (face to face role), Telemarketing Role). Give your answer on a scale from 1 to 7 where 1 indicates "Not important at all" and 7 indicates "Very important".

  7. Within the industry, how important is an attractive smile for the perception of a job applicant during an interview with the hiring manager in the roles specified (Nurse, Programmer/IT Technician, Data Analyst/Statistician, Sales Representative, Business Management, Customer Service (face to face role), Telemarketing Role). Give your answer on a scale from 1 to 7 where 1 indicates "Not important at all" and 7 indicates "Very important".

  8. Please review the images below of two candidates with otherwise equal qualifications. How likely are you to recommend Candidate A over Candidate B for a follow-up interview in the roles (Nurse, Programmer/IT Technician, Data Analyst/Statistician, Sales Representative, Business Management, Customer Service (face to face role), Telemarketing Role). Give your answer on a scale from 1 to 7 where 1 indicates "Not important at all" and 7 indicates "Very important".

Respondents for the worldwide results were based in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Iceland, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Respondents for regional results were exclusively from the region stated.