January 09, 2023 • 3 min read

Lights, Camera, Action!  The Integral Role of a Dental Assistant for Medical Billing in Dentistry

Dental assistants play a demanding role in dental practices, handling surgery, hygiene, lab, exams, post-op appointments, and admin. They are well-suited for medical billing for dentistry.



Laurie Owens

CPC | CPB | COC | Director Of Medical Billing Education for Devdent

Dental Assistant for Medical Billing

What is one of the most challenging jobs in a dental practice? We’ll give you a clue: They have their hands in surgery, hygiene, lab, exams, post-op appointments, and admin. They are a one-person show with many different skills rolled into one.

One of the most demanding jobs in a dental practice is that of a dental assistant. Dental assistants play the star, hero, victim, and even the detective of the dental practice. This makes them well-suited for an integral role in medical billing for dentistry.

Here are the five areas where dental assistants and medical billers for dentistry can collaborate to make their practice successful: 

1. Investigator

Dental assistants are investigators. They gather vital information from the patient prior to the doctor’s arrival to help ensure that the patient’s visit is a smooth process. The information and guidance provided by the dental assistant helps to prompt the doctor to get additional information to clinically diagnose the patient. 

These investigators ask questions in a manner that provides medically necessary details that help beyond the time spent with the patient and dentist. They also aid medical billers to maximize benefits for their patients. 

2. Medication Mediator

Dental assistants dig deep into health histories for things that could be causing a breakdown of the oral cavity. This is a huge step in providing positive patient care. There are times when a patient may think that they are going crazy! They brush three times a day, and floss at least twice daily, but they still need three fillings and two crowns? Surely that can’t be right! 

When a dental assistant (DA) makes a connection between a pre-existing condition, such as asthma that has required the use of an inhaler for 10+ years, they know to ask questions specific to that condition, they then know to adapt their questions to look for the possibility of the patient having a dry oral cavity (Xerostomia) that may cause the deterioration of the patient’s oral health.  

Some questions that a DA may ask their patients once comorbidity has been found are: 

  • Does the amount of saliva in their mouth seem to be too little, too much, or has there been no change that they’ve noticed? 

  • Do they have difficulty swallowing? 

  • Does their mouth feel dry during or after eating a meal? 

  • Do they sip liquids to aid in swallowing dry foods? 
3. Relationship Builder

Dental assistants help to maintain positive relationships with patients. They open the lines of communication between a patient and the dentist, all while providing a positive and warm environment for even the most nervous of patients. 

What does this relationship building look like exactly?

When a new patient arrives at the practice, after their introductory exam and x-rays, the doctor determines that initial periodontal therapy (scaling and root planing) is the best treatment option.

The DA notices that the patient has Type II Diabetes and the doctor confirms the presence of periodontal disease. One caveat is that the patient is highly dental phobic and states “if she cannot do it all at one time, she will not do it”.

Enter stage left, the relationship builder DA. They make sure the treatment coordinator contacts the treating physician and documentation that due to diabetes, the physician  believes the combination is affecting the patient’s A1c. The DA also makes sure the hygienist who sees the patient knows the underlying medical condition. This has built a relationship that will build long-lasting trust with the patient, and their physician. 

4. Fact Finder

Without the keen ears of our DAs, there might not be any facts to list during the consultation and research phases of the appointment. Many times, we have heard our patients chatting to their dental assistants for 10-15 minutes about their life stories. Then, when the doctor comes into the operatory and asks how the patient is, all you hear is “I’m good”, short and to the point. 

Patients tend to be much more open and comfortable conversing with DAs. The real hero, the DA, steps up and gives the doctor the background on what has been going on and empowers the patient to now speak freely to the doctor.

5. Treatment Sleuth

After the one-on-one with the doctor, where the doctors diagnose and speak with the patient about the best treatment options, Dentists then step in to review the procedure with the patient. DAs have an innate ability to sense if the patient is apprehensive, fearful, blown away, or in a state of shock. A DA then preps the treatment coordinator on what to expect and may even turn many no’s into yeses because the treatment coordinator understood what the patient was thinking because of the dental assistant. 

Remember, all parts in a movie are important and integral to telling the story. The same is true for how our DAs make medical billing so much easier for insurance specialists!

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