The Importance of Our Tribe

Real World Insights from AADOM Authors - Malissa Gianfala

Full disclosure, I’m a nerd that thrives on numbers, statistics, and history. I firmly believe in the power of knowing where you’ve been to genuinely appreciate where you’re going and the process to get there. This has been critical as I navigate leadership within the dental field, redefining my purpose, and what steps I need to take to be successful.
There are 3 departments in your average dental practice: Restorative, Preventative, and Administrative. Let’s dive into a history and recognize the pioneers of our industry.

Restorative Dentistry

The restorative team consists of dentists and dental assistants. In 2600 B.C Hesy-Re from Egypt is recognized as the first dental clinician, but dentistry itself predates thousands of years. The first medically trained dentist to practice in America was John Baker, who emigrated from England in 1760. In 1859, the American Dental Association was founded in New York.
In the late 1800s, In New Orleans, Louisiana, Malvina Cuerina is recognized as the first dental assistant. In 1924, in New York the American Dental Assistant Association was founded. It wasn’t until 1948, that the ADAA felt it was vital for assistants to be certified and created their own certifying board. By 1980, its name was changed to Dental Assistant National Board and became recognized by the American Dental Association as the national certification board for dental assistants.

Preventative Dentistry

In 1906, Irene Newman is recognized as the first person to be trained to render dental hygiene duties. The same doctor who trained her saw the success and need for hygienists, establishing the first successful dental hygiene program in 1913. By 1917, Irene would become the first licensed dental hygienist. In 1924, the American Association of Dental Hygienists was formed. Twenty years later, the ADHA adopted “RDH,” and by the early 1960s, national board exams were administered. By 1952, every state in the United States had incorporated hygienists into the dental practice.

Dental Administration

Here is the million-dollar question, who was the first dental office manager, dental receptionist, or any other similar title holder? The answer? Unknown. No one has been recognized as being the first to take on the business aspect of dental practice. There currently aren’t dental specific billing and coding or management accredited certifications or professional degrees compared to medical billing and coding certification programs or Business Administration in Healthcare degree programs offered in universities and colleges today. As dental professionals in business organization and management, we are expected to fulfill our duties with minimal resources and education programs in comparison to other professionals within the dental field.

It took one person from the outside looking in, wondering why we didn’t have the support and recognition as our peers in the field. In 2005, Heather Colicchio founded the American Association of Dental Office Managers (AADOM). It is the first recognized association delivering resources, education, and camaraderie on a national and local level. With its recent rollout of implementing designations, Fellowship (2010), Mastership (2019), and Diplomate (2019), AADOM allows those in management to express their commitment within the dental field and their role in the practice.

As dental office leadership roles, responsibilities, and titles vary from practice to practice based on the needs of the dentist, the majority of our responsibilities are invisible labor. The appointment book didn’t methodically schedule itself so that a dentist can run multiple chairs simultaneously without overworking, stressing employees, or sacrificing punctuality. Insurance claims, accounts receivable, and statements don’t send themselves. Spearheading business analytics for the practice: financials goals, KPIs, and other metrics within the practice aid in catching issues early or prove that systems in place are thriving. Being the person your team calls when they need advice unrelated to work or receiving an early-morning text and need to reschedule patients, find coverage, or be the coverage for them, are all part of this role. Staying abreast on new laws and changing legislation on a federal and state level, and all other HR, OSHA, and HIPAA requirements are also included. Office leaders find missed opportunities and turn them into profits. With any leadership role, you wear many hats. When I made the transition from clinical to administrative, my degree aided in the general business aspect, but it was my dental assistant background and AADOM that contributed to my success in dentistry leadership.

Within the last 60-80 years, dentistry went from the dentist working alone to dentists creating positions and delegating responsibilities to focus on patients and growing their practice. Like Melvina and Irene, I believe we are pioneers in our roles as office leaders. Our failures, successes, and hard work that we render today are creating a better future for our successors. The importance of being an active member of AADOM is a crucial part of making a difference.

A difference maker is an ordinary person who accomplishes extraordinary things by creating a positive change. Be a difference maker on a local level by educating and engaging your peers. If you don’t have a chapter, form one. The experience, knowledge, and expertise collectively among your peers are profound and invaluable resources. Together on a national level, we have the power to collaborate and create the support, resources, and education programs office managers lack. Our tribe is an instrumental part of our personal and professional growth, change, and bringing awareness of the worth each of us holds in the dental industry.

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About the Author

Headshot of Malissa Gianfala

From a small town in Louisiana, Hurricane Katrina brought Malissa to Georgia in 2005. In 2010, she began her dental career as a surgical dental assistant, and 8 years later, made the journey into business management. In 2021, Malissa started a local AADOM Chapter in Gwinnett County. She became an AADOM Fellow in 2021 and will be inducted into the 2023 class of AADOM Masters (MAADOMs) in September. She says her greatest achievement is being a mom to her beautiful four children who are her true inspiration for who she is today.

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