Dental Office Manager Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a dental office manager? Get real job requirements, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a dental office manager is right for you.
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The Pros and Cons of a Career in Dental Office Management

Job duties for a dental office manager can include coordinating interactions between patients and staff, ensuring the accuracy of patient histories or taking on small-scale human resources responsibilities. It's important to consider the pros and cons of the job to decide if this field is for you.

Pros of a Dental Office Manager Career
Can enter the profession from several different career fields*
Variety of additional roles available to managers, including consulting and teaching*
Free professional development resources are available**
4-day work weeks are common***

Cons of a Dental Office Manager Career
Keeping up with changes to regulations can be taxing*
Low starting pay (salary range for most entry-level dental office managers is around $28,000-$51,000)****
High attention to detail required for billing*****
Job duties can include managing difficult patients******

Sources: *The DALE Foundation, **American Association of Dental Office Managers, ***University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, ****PayScale.com, *****University of Virginia, ******University of Detroit-Mercy

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

A dental office manager is responsible for a wide range of job duties within a dental practice. These can include updating patient files, scheduling appointments and maintaining client relations. As a dental office manager, you might also be expected to train and schedule staff, manage payroll or perform employee evaluations. Additional job responsibilities are more concerned with the fiscal operations of a dental practice, such as billing insurance companies or developing marketing campaigns to help attract new patients. Dental office managers usually don't perform clinical tasks, but they could be required to ensure equipment is properly maintained and stocked. They must also ensure that other staff, such as dental assistants, are properly credentialed according to state laws.

Salary and Employment Information

Salary ranges for dental office managers vary according to experience. PayScale.com reported that most managers of dentists' offices who'd been on the job for a year or less earned between $28,000 and $51,000 as of December 2014. The salary range for those with 20 or more years of experience was around $34,000-$64,000.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected a much-faster-than-average job growth of 33% for the dental hygienist profession between 2012 and 2022, which could impact the need for dental office managers. Furthermore, dental assistants, who also perform some administrative duties, were expected to see a 25% increase in employment opportunities over the same period, which points to a healthy job market for dental office managers as well.

What Are the Requirements?

Education and Experience

Employers look for applicants with anywhere from 1-5 years of experience managing a dental office. Additional qualifications can include an associate or bachelor's degree, but some employers might waive this requirement if you have related work experience. Not surprisingly, there are many ways to enter this career field. If you have a business or customer service background in another industry, you might find an employer who is willing to train you in the day-to-day operations of a dental office.

If you already work for a dental office in a clinical capacity, you might be interested to learn that some community colleges and 4-year schools offer dental office management certificate and degree completion programs geared toward dental assistants and dental hygienists who would like to take on additional responsibilities. Coursework often includes topics in sales, records management, dental services reimbursement and accounting.

Useful Skills

In addition to experience, employers also look for applicants with strong organizational skills and multitasking abilities in order to handle the day-to-day operations of an office as well as manage its long-term financial objectives. Bolstering your communication skills and phone etiquette could also go a long way toward helping you address patient complaints and provide excellent customer service. Supervisory skills might also be a plus, since you'll need to ensure that other staff members are working as efficiently as possible.

What Employers Are Looking For

Employers list the ability to use word processing programs among their qualifications. Other common requirements can be found in these sample job posts from March 2012:

  • A dental practice in California was looking for an office manager who can train and supervise other staff members. Applicants needed a bachelor's degree, though experience beyond three years was also accepted.
  • A group dental practice with a location in Detroit, Michigan, sought a dental office manager who could train office staff and attract new patients. Qualifications included an associate degree and 3-5 years of experience.
  • A dental office manager was needed to recruit staff and develop office policies for a pediatric dental clinic in Texas. Applicants needed at least one year of of experience.
  • A dental office in Florida was searching for an office manager who could work with staff to improve productivity and revenues. Job applicants needed to demonstrate the ability to respond professionally to complaints, improve customer service and manage the practice's finances.

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

Learn a Second Language

According to several job posts, some employers prefer dental office managers who can speak Spanish. To get ahead in this field, you might consider developing second language skills though a college's continuing education program. Many offer Spanish language courses, some of which can be completed online, or medical translation courses that include Spanish.

Volunteer

According to the Dental Auxiliary Learning and Education (DALE) Foundation, volunteering can be another way to stand out from the competition, either by helping you learn new skills or allowing you to network with others. Volunteer opportunities are often available with professional or nonprofit organizations, where you might provide such services as developing a marketing campaign or raising funds.

Join a Professional Organization

You might also want to join a professional organization, such as the American Association of Dental Office Managers (AADOM). Benefits of membership can include networking opportunities and access to the continuing education resources needed to remain up-to-date on industry standards. The organization also offers free webinars to members and non-members alike.

You might consider participating in professional development opportunities. For example, AADOM offers a fellowship program that requires three years of dental office management experience and completion of the DALE Foundation's certificate programs in accounts receivable and human resources fundamentals. According to AADOM, this credential can help you demonstrate your expertise to future clients and employers.

Other Careers to Consider

Dental Assistant

If you feel you're not quite ready to manage the daily operations of a dental office, but would still like to take on some administrative responsibilities, such as scheduling patients or managing patient records, you might prefer a job as a dental assistant. Entry-level training requirements for these positions are minimal and the employment prospects are excellent. The BLS expects more than 91,600 new positions to be created between 2010 and 2020. However, there wasn't a large difference in salary; dental assistants earned average salaries of around $34,000 as of May 2011.

Dental Hygienist

If you'd like to be solely responsible for performing clinical tasks, a job as a dental hygienist is another career option worth considering. You'll still get to work in a dental office, but you won't have to worry about job duties like staff scheduling or budgeting. Training for this profession can be completed through certificate or associate degree programs. This is a state-regulated profession; however, this drawback might pale in comparison to the substantial salaries dental hygienists earn. According to the BLS, their average wage was almost $70,000 as of May 2011. Employment opportunities for these professionals were projected to grow 38% over the reporting decade.

Instructor

Dental assistants with an associate degree or at least five years of experience can qualify for positions as dental assistant instructors at postsecondary schools. This could be an ideal job setting if you aren't interested in a managerial position but would still like to advance your career. The BLS reported that vocational postsecondary education teachers earned just under $54,000 a year on average. A moderate employment growth of 15% was projected for all postsecondary teachers over the 2010-2020 decade.

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