The business of dentistry


Demand for dental office administrators continues to grow as dental practices become larger and more complex, often with several dentists and dental hygienists working from the same premises.

Mary Clare Szabo, who teaches in the dental office administration program at George Brown College, says practices look at dental care as a business these days rather than the provision of health care. “A dentist is a businessman. He is running a small business, so (he’s) looking at people with training so they can come in and go right to work,” Szabo says.

The full-time program at George Brown lasts 28 weeks, split into two 14-week semesters. Szabo says almost all her students are women although “I get one or two males.” The average age of her students is 22. They need a high school diploma, she says, with Grade 12 English. The program registers about 50 students to begin classes each September, but some change their mind, Szabo says, so that 50 becomes 40 or so.

Once enrolled, students in the program learn dental office procedures such as managing different inventory supply systems, customer service, dental office software — George Brown teaches Abeldent and Power Practice — and dental insurance.

“Dental insurance is a huge topic,” Szabo says. “I spend a whole month on dental insurance.”

Students in the program can also expect to learn basic oral-facial anatomy and be introduced to radiography.

In their second semester, students must also complete unpaid work placement assignments in private dental offices where “they get some practical training right on the job,” Szabo says. George Brown also provides the public with certain dental and other health services, Szabo notes, so her students also work with those people who come into the college for treatment.

As well as George Brown’s full-time program, there will also be a part-time course starting this September through the college’s Continuous Learning department. Deborah Clark, chair of Community Services and Health Sciences in Continuous Learning, says the part- time program is the same as the full-time one in scope and admission requirements.

However, she says it has been designed so people already working can study at night and on weekends. Clark says she expects the students taking the part-time course will be career-changers or those already in the field and looking for a qualification.

Because of the part-time program’s target student, Clark says their average age will be 35 to 45. There’s no limit on how long students can take to finish the part-time program, although Clark estimates they could take two to three years. There is a limit, however, on the number of students George Brown can accept in the new program. Clark says the college can’t take more than 40. Part-time students also have to complete work placement requirements.

Part-timers can pay their tuition fees course by course. Clark says the cost of all courses is about $800 a year. In the full-time program, tuition is about $2,800.

Whether they pay their tuition fees all in one go or spread them out, both full-time and part-time students should be able to recoup their investment in short order when they graduate. Szabo says entry-level wages are from $12 to $14 an hour, “and if you’re good you can make more than a dental hygienist.” And a dental office manager, she points out, can make $50,000 a year.

Quick facts

– The full-time program at George Brown accepts up to 50 students a year.

– Applicants need a high school diploma with Grade 12 English or the equivalent.

– The part-time dental office administration program is new and begins this September.

– George Brown will accept up to 40 part-time students, who must have the same qualifications as full-timers.