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What does the career path of a dental office manager look like?


Pop quiz: What are the different staff positions in a dental practice? How different people and organizations answer this question may surprise you.


Here are some answers you would probably give:



Office Manager


Now, imagine we asked this same question to the ADA? Here are its probable answers:



Lab Technician


Notice anything missing?


On the American Dental Association’s website page “Dental Team Careers” you can see that they’ve left out the dental office manager completely. As far as the ADA is concerned, the dental office manager is not a dental team career. I think we would all tend to disagree.


The career of a dental office manager may look something like this:

Beginner: New to the field, a dental office manager often starts out as a receptionist, hired to answer phones, schedule appointments, and collect payments at the front desk.

Runs the front desk: With experience, now our dental office manager asks few questions. She understands the flow of lab cases, how to handle emergencies, refers to specialists easily, and enjoys chatting with the patients throughout her busy days.


In many solo practices, this career has a short path. However, as dentists continue to work together and form group practices that even expand into multiple location offices, a career may continue toward:

Team leader: Responsible for the team of administrative staff, creating the schedule, and dividing the duties for the group. The team leader is also responsible for training and managing her team, so leadership and problem-solving are necessary skills for success.

Practice manager: Now managing the administrative team, assistants, and hygienists, the practice manager expands her people skills and understanding of dentistry. Often the dentist works closely with this manager and the practice enjoys an organized business structure.

Regional manager: Usually this position exists in corporate dental practices where a manager is responsible for six to 10 dental offices as a middle management position. Extensive travel is required and pay scales are drastically increased as a result.

So why does the ADA not include a dental office manager as a career in dentistry? Here are my guesses:


We’re not clinical

The ADA is full of dentists who are clinical. They share a common background with hygienists and assistants who experienced the study of biology, time spent in labs, and hands-on patient care. None of this is shared with a dental office manager who is primarily responsible for the business side of the practice.


The state board doesn’t license us

Again, state board members are 100% clinical primarily dentists with one hygienist thrown in for good measure. These bodies make decisions about certifications for dental staff and clarify the training required to provide each type of patient care. Since these boards don’t regulate certifications or training for dental office managers, this position may simply be off their radar.


Obviously, the dental office manager is a dental team career some might argue the most important position in the practice. Even in the career path described above, the dental office manager can advance to a position responsible for all other dental staff in the office, so beyond simply existing in a dental practice, the dental office manager has the opportunity to influence the activities and the performance of the practice overall.


In my next article, I will share thoughts on future opportunities for the career path of a dental office manager some that don’t even exist yet!

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