Managing Your Dental Practice 101

two dental hygienists managing a dental practice

Managing a dental practice is hard work. Whether you’re a dentist running a private practice or the new manager of a dental office, you need to know a few extra things to stay on top of your practice management game. Of course, many online courses cover the topic of dental practice management, but we’ve got some tips on getting started.

Here are some basics of managing your dental practice: what tasks need doing, what skills make these tasks easier, and where to go to sharpen your skills.

Why Seamless Dental Management Is Important

An organized, well-managed office benefits you and your patients. It means that assistants, hygienists, and dentists can spend less time on tasks that don’t require their specialized training and dental expertise. After all, you went into dentistry to help people with their oral health. When office tasks are managed properly, you and your staff of dental professionals can focus on what only you can provide: high-quality patient care. An organized office also contributes to a “more time in the day” feeling. And who couldn’t use more time?

And patients will surely notice signs of mismanagement such as insurance paperwork being submitted late, appointments that change at the last minute, or staff who seem stressed or overextended. If experiences like these occur too frequently, some patients might start looking for a better-managed practice.

What Great Dental Managers Do

If your office already has a manager, you know how much this administrative professional accomplishes for your practice. If your office doesn’t, you might consider hiring or promoting a member of your staff to the position of practice manager. Dental managers handle myriad items, taking a chunk of stress off the plates of dentists and treatment staff. Among other things, dental managers can help with the following office functions.

Following Dental Office Policies & Procedures

In any workplace, employees function best when they know what to expect and have clear rules set out for them. Well-run businesses don’t leave anything to chance when it comes to policies such as vacation time, paid leave, disciplinary actions, and expense reimbursements, to name a few. Having a dental manager create and enforce an employee handbook such as that suggested by the New Jersey Dental Association can help prevent landmines like employee resentment, perceived favoritism, or a negative culture.

Implementing Dental Software

Aside from having basic software such as Microsoft Office Suite and Google Workspace, which can handle emails, to-do lists, and basic scheduling, a busy dental office can greatly benefit from software to organize payments, appointments, and insurance information and keep them all in one place. Some of the best options for dental practice management software on the market today can assist administrative staff with prescription information, treatment planning tools, billing and accounting, insurance processing (including Medicaid reimbursement), payer utilization, and revenue tracking.

Handling Payments & Finances

Matt Eckert, DDS, believes strongly in the importance of learning to manage a dental practice’s finances. Using his 28 years of practice as an example, he shares that “dentistry was easy; the business part was a lesson learned by trial and error.” Seth Whicker, CFP, MS, makes a similar point: “You can have the best idea in the world, but if you can’t make your finances work, you’ll quickly run out of business.”

Dental managers work with dental insurance companies to make sure accounts receivable are paid on time and that patients understand their copays and other charges. They’re also typically in charge of accounts payable, which involves ordering the business’s necessities and working with outside vendors to obtain quality supplies. Managers may also be tasked with payroll duties and renewing dental malpractice coverage.

Become an expert in dental malpractice insurance

Scheduling the Team

Dental practice managers help to create a solid team schedule that works for both employees and patients. Managers balance the demands of the business by ensuring that enough staff is available during every shift to meet the demand of patient appointments. Managers are responsible for items such as watching out for double booking, making sure that each dentist has time between their appointments, and ensuring there are always an adequate number of dental assistants and hygienists in the building at all times.

Building Team Culture

A healthy workplace culture doesn’t just happen. It requires conscious effort and thought, beginning with you as the practice owner or manager. Positive team cultures are built by

  • Engaging employees
  • Seeking their feedback
  • Showing your appreciation
  • Creating a safe environment
  • Role-modeling the practice’s values
  • Focusing on wellness

Dr. Eckert emphasizes the importance of promoting a positive team culture, sharing that dentists who own their practice and dental managers should “tell the people around you how much you appreciate the hard work they do for you, because without them, you wouldn’t be here.” Many industries struggle with hiring and keeping great staff at all levels, a challenge you probably face in your dental office too. Dr. Eckert shares that “one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with is the hire-fire part.” He suggests that when making hiring decisions with a positive employee culture in mind, you should focus on what kind of a person the applicant is: “What are their values? Are they friendly, are they caring, are they compassionate? Are they truly trying to better themselves?” Role-modeling these qualities yourself and rewarding employees who demonstrate them too are great ways to create the culture you’d like to see in your dental practice.

Skills Needed to Be a Great Dental Manager

Your dental manager is going to wear a lot of hats and will need strong organizational and leadership skills to keep everyone (and everything) on task. Here are some great qualities to look for:

  • Organization
  • Leadership
  • Attention to detail
  • Focus
  • Patience
  • Efficiency
  • Maturity and emotional intelligence
  • Proficiency in computer skills and certain software programs

Dental Management Checklists

When updated and used correctly, dental management checklists become the lifeblood of the practice. They help you and your staff set expectations and maintain accountability throughout the office. You may already have access to a checklist system that could work for you. For example, Microsoft’s Planner application allows managers to assign tasks to any number of individuals within an organization, categorize the tasks, create notes about the tasks, set deadlines, and sort the tasks (e.g., by deadline or job title).

A manager might want the following checklists:

New Patient Checklist

Dental Assistant Checklist

Scheduling Coordinator Checklist

Hygienist Checklist

Infection Control Checklist

Education for Dental Managers: Courses & Resources

Whether you’re looking to promote a current member of your administrative staff to office manager, you’d like to provide additional training to your current manager, or you’re simply a dentist looking to manage your practice yourself, many courses and online resources are available to help you learn (and sharpen) the skills you need.

  • The American Association of Dental Office Management (AADOM) produces many online educational resources and hosts in-person conferences for dental office managers. Some of its latest education topics cover Medicare Advantage Plus, Simplifying the Business of Dentistry for the Busy Office Manager, and the most common HIPAA, OSHA, and infection-control violations.
  • The American Dental Association (ADA) provides a lot of helpful content for dental office managers. Some of its recent educational material includes an article about avoiding hiring mistakes within your dental office, a podcast on hiring staff according to a well-thought-out process, and a breakdown of the Family and Medical Leave Act for dental offices.
  • The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) produces continuing education courses and office management courses for dentists and administrative staff alike. AGD maintains a library of practice management tools for members to access at any time.

Final Thoughts

Your practice has everything it needs to become (and remain) the kind of place that patients can rely on to receive great care. And while providing that care is up to the dentists and treatment staff, keeping the practice running smoothly is handled by a team of talented administrative staff, including your dental office manager. After all, making your dental practice something to smile about is a team effort!


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Last updated on Jul 24, 2024.
Originally published on Nov 03, 2022.


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Cara Gray Bridgers

Cara Gray Bridgers, JD/MBA is a full-time attorney based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Cara uses her business and legal education as an in-house attorney at a global corporation by day. By night, Cara loves to read, write about business and law, and teach group fitness classes.