Reflections for Dental Office Managers: Is It Me?

Heather Colicchio


Are you starting to feel stuck in a neverending cycle of stagnant, frustrating work situations? Perhaps you’ve run into issues like: 

  • The team feeling overworked
  • A constant turnover of dental assistants
  • Repeatedly being on the lookout for new team members
  • Hygienists not acting as team players
  • A dentist who is disconnected with the needs of the team

As a dental practice manager, you’re the glue that holds everything together and does your best to keep people happy—your team and patients alike. 

But what if things aren’t improving? What if, as horrible as it sounds, you’re a part of the problem?

Sure, none of us want to think or believe that we’re the problem. But if we’re truly committed to taking our careers to the next level and being the best we can be, it’s vital to routinely reflect on ourselves and the professional role that we play. 

Take a Break 

Maybe you’re feeling overworked. As a result, you’re taking it out on the team, or you’re unable to feel like you can get your feet back under you at the office.

Although a vacation sounds counterintuitive when you can’t keep up with your job at work in the first place, it may be just the respite that you need to come back with a refreshed and renewed attitude. 

Sometimes it’s not possible to leave your personal life at home. If taking a mental health day gives you the time you need to handle other commitments so that you’re not exhausted at work, everyone will be happy—yes, even the dentist. 

Have a Team Comment Box 

Nobody likes criticism. But when your team can feel comfortable leaving anonymous comments and suggestions, they’ll really open up. And chances are if they do, they’re not the only ones who feel that way.

Treat all comments or criticisms with respect. Remember, we can’t grow professionally unless we are able to power through our own weaknesses. Light only shines through the cracks!

Connect with Your Team

Whether you need to perform annual reviews, take everyone to lunch, or start more team-building projects, the better you can connect with your team on a personal level, the more they’ll feel they can connect with, trust, and respect you. A charity project in your community is always a great place to start.

If the members of your team aren’t sharing with you, this could be a big red flag. The same can be said for those who share too much. Find the happy medium of balancing management with personal connections, but don’t go entirely one way or the other. Keep it even among everyone in the office.

Value Others’ Personal Time

No one wants to work for or with a dictator. Yes, it’s a job. But the truth is that no matter who you are, your family and health come first. Being understanding and attentive to the personal needs of your team will facilitate mutual respect between everyone else in the practice.

Plan ahead. Encourage people to take off for important events in their personal lives so they don’t become resentful of their jobs. Keep a trusted temp list on hand for when you need to fill in openings on a short-term basis.

Find the Money to Get Things Fixed 

How many times has the assistant complained about the sterilizer leaking? The dentist says you can’t afford to get it fixed yet. But you know the numbers. If it means getting the dentist to come in on a Saturday or stay late two days next week to buy a new piece of equipment or call in the repair tech, present it that way. 

Constantly working with broken or faulty equipment does more harm than good. It means your office functions slower and doesn’t provide as good or efficient care. When everyone can work quickly and easily, it boosts morale just as much as it does productivity. Don’t ignore it.

Are Your Own Biases Getting in the Way?

Sometimes self-reflection can be a struggle. Our own attitudes, opinions, and perceptions of things affect the way we work. If we want someone to do something a certain way but they keep pushing back with “it doesn’t work,” then it’s time to re-assess. Even if you feel like you’re in the right, try to put yourself in their shoes to view the situation from another angle.

Let’s say you’ve done a time study and decided to cut hygiene appointments by 10 minutes. But by halfway through the day, your hygienist is already running behind, and it’s cutting into her lunch break. This has gone on for two weeks, and everyone is feeling frazzled. 

Perhaps the best thing to do is find a medium: cutting the appointments by 5 minutes instead of 10, giving 20 minutes back to the morning and afternoon schedule. Give it a few weeks, then re-evaluate.

Be the Best You

Make a list of what you want your “dream boss” to be like. Which characteristics do you share? Which do you need to work on? Continued professional and personal development will help you become the dental office manager that people don’t just like to work with, they love to. 

Ms. Colicchio is the founder and president of the American Association of Dental Office Management (AADOM), the nation’s largest professional organization for dental office managers and practice administrators. She is passionate about small business and entrepreneurship. She also is excited by visioning and building and by seeing ideas come to life, especially when these ideas empower others. One of her unique strengths is connecting people to achieve their individual and combined goals. She appreciates quality collaboration and thrives working with a talented team of professionals both inside her organization and within the dental industry. She can be reached at

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