Cross-training: From dental assistant to office manager

yellow flat background with desk items paperclips and paper that reads training development

When exploring ways to take their dental career to the next level, some dental assistants choose to move into dental office management roles. And for good reason.

Dental office managers often are seen as leaders in the dental practice, and those with a background in dental assisting typically make a great fit for office administration. This is because dental office managers, like dental assistants, are highly detail oriented and organized, very skilled when it comes to working with people, and extremely well-versed in the inner workings of the dental office.

A transition from dental assisting to working in other dental practice areas often begins with cross-training. DANB recently chatted with Denise Coyne, MAADOM, about her experience with doing just that, to help provide guidance to dental assistants looking to make a similar move.

DANB: Thank you for speaking with us! Can you discuss your background in the dental field?

Denise: I have worked as an office manager in an orthodontic office for more than seven years, and I have been employed at the practice where I work for more than 30 years. My career started with dental assisting school and has been a great journey from where I started to my current position. I received my dental assisting degree from Blackhawk College in 1989, Fellowship in the American Association of Dental Office Management (AADOM) in 2019, and Mastership in AADOM in 2020.

From your perspective, where’s a good place for a dental professional to start in their career?

I believe that dental assisting is a wonderful career and can be a starting point to expand into other roles. If you’ve attended dental assisting school, this will give you a head start on building the knowledge base and experience that will help you grow your career. Having the foundation of dental assisting education will open the door to other dental positions within the field should you decide to explore options. Already understanding terminology and clinical treatment knowledge will help shorten the learning curve of any new position.

Earning and maintaining national certification with the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) also can be highly beneficial for dental professionals, and especially dental assistants. If you decide to explore a dental position other than dental assisting, and you hold DANB certification, I encourage you to maintain it. You never know when you may need it down the road. Also, becoming recertified can be costly and time-consuming. You completed all the hard work, so keep your DANB certification current!

What’s a key way to go about exploring other areas of the dental office?

Cross-training in the dental office is beneficial to you and the practice where you work, so please take advantage of any opportunity to learn additional skills. Having a background in dental assisting can qualify you for on-the-job training in other dental positions that may not require specific credentials. In those situations, additional knowledge can be priceless!

What are examples of practice-management roles dental assistants can explore?

Because dental assistants juggle a variety of clinical and administrative duties, they often already have the skills to succeed in dental practice management. Plus, those with a dental assisting background are extremely organized — and those best suited for a transition into practice management tend to be interested in creating and implementing policies, procedures, schedules and systems that make the office run more smoothly.

Job titles for practice management roles vary, but can include office manager, treatment coordinator, scheduling assistant, or insurance and finance coordinator.

As a scheduling assistant, dental assisting knowledge helps you confidently educate the patient, especially in terms of the steps and time required to complete the dentist’s treatment plan. It also gives you great understanding of the importance of scheduling appointments correctly and how scheduling affects the clinical team.

As a treatment coordinator, dental assisting knowledge allows you to explain procedures accurately and answer questions with confidence. Also, having a financial or insurance background enables you to help the patient find the best payment option for their circumstance.

As a financial or insurance coordinator, your dental knowledge helps with understanding claims, dental terminology and any documentation that is required. Knowing procedures helps you connect the whole process from start to finish, which is very beneficial in claims processing. The financial focus allows this position to potentially take on more responsibilities.

As an office manager, having a dental assisting background helps you understand why systems are set up a certain way. It also makes you a better problem-solver because of the various situations and conflicts you’ve experienced.

As you can see, for those with both dental assisting and management knowledge and skills, the possibilities are endless!

What challenges might a dental assistant expect while cross-training into office management, specifically?

If you transition into an office management role, remember that there will likely be challenges. It is sometimes difficult for the team to look at you as a leader. Your relationships typically change when moving from being a team member to an office manager. As long as you were a good team member, you most likely will get the respect and support from your team as a manager. However, this transition overall will position you to be a better office manager because you will have seen both sides, “front office” and “back office.” As an office manager, you can encourage and mentor every team member to be the best they can be in their respective positions. Those with a dental assisting background are able to see how each team member’s actions affect everyone. With that knowledge, you can help them come together to support the office in providing excellent oral healthcare. That is why we call it a team.

AADOM is a helpful resource

If transitioning to leadership is your goal, AADOM will support you each step of the way. AADOM’s five-module Dental Assistant to Practice Administrator (DA to PA) course will equip you with knowledge and expand your skill set to be successful in practice leadership. Learn more!