Making Informed Decisions to Save on Dental Supplies

September 04, 2017

Dentists are [finally] saving by buying online

Consumers around the world buy products online, and dentists are no exception. More and more, dental supplies can be found and purchased online, often for a fraction of the cost that traditional distributors charge.

In fact, many dentists are now waking up to the fact that the biggest dental supply distributors have been overcharging for years. (There is an ongoing class action lawsuit against Henry Schein, Patterson, and Benco for price-fixing and collusion.)

Simply put, it just doesn’t make sense to keep paying an extra 30% for the ‘luxury’ of purchasing through a sales representative. For the average dental practice, this amounts to about $20,000 per year in potential savings.  And today, offices don’t necessarily need a sales representative to learn what’s new in the dental world. Honestly, we all read about it on the Internet first anyway.

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But in switching away from the more expensive large distributors, doctors rightfully question the quality and source of the products they purchase elsewhere. How can they verify the source off the products they purchase?

Finding Trusted Suppliers

Quality of patient care should be top of mind for everyone involved in healthcare, from the practitioners to the auxiliary staff. This, of course, extends to supplies- dentists can’t risk putting junk in their patients’ mouths. However, practitioners can feel cheated by the price discrepancies between large distributors and online sources, both legitimate and gray market.

As the founder of Supply Clinic, I’m asked a number of questions about product quality and safety. Was a product made in China? Is the product’s supply chain secure? Is a product as good as another one I’ve been using? Rest assured, we do proper diligence to make sure the products on our site are not only affordable but safe to use as well.

These questions basically boil down to: “Can I trust you as my supplier?” Will we be overcharged? And are the products safe and legitimate? Many are familiar with the phrase “gray market”, but don’t know exactly what it means.

What exactly is gray market, anyway?

Broadly speaking, gray market can be one of several things:

  • A product sold in the US for a higher price than it’s sold abroad.  A distributor may buy it abroad, ship it back to the US, and sell it domestically.
  • A slightly different product sold abroad that’s brought into the US. The product may have the same name and manufacturer as a similar item in the US, but actually has a different chemical compound. (Manufacturers can make a lower quality product for an outside market with lower safety standards to minimize costs.) That product may have been purchased outside the US and brought back in for distribution.
  • A counterfeit product, or a product that’s been deliberately tampered with, or had its expiration date altered. This isn’t gray market- it’s outright black market, but it’s not always so easy to tell the difference. Luckily, this is the rarest situation.

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Then there’s the added confusion of shipping and handling.  For certain products, temperature control and other shipping restrictions can affect the product.

Is a distributor that buys a product abroad and ships it back to the US careful to handle products properly? These concerns affect certain types of products, particularly temperature-sensitive chemical compounds.

What does Supply Clinic do?

As an online marketplace, Supply Clinic has dozens of sellers who ship directly to the customers. As such, for all products that have the potential to impact patient care, we make pains to verify the security of the supply chain. Examples of such products include: restorative materials, anesthetics, bonding agent, cements and liners, and impression materials.

We do our homework as best as possible to ensure that all companies looking to list those products are directly authorized to do so, or buy through authorized channels.

That said- if you ever see a product on our site that looks fishy or potentially gray market, please alert us ASAP. We take the matter very seriously. This is outlined in a bit more detail on our FAQ page. We work closely with our customer community to remain a trusted source of supplies.

Big Company Scare tactics

Because the issue of supply chain can be complicated, it’s easy for the rep of a large distributor to convince a dental office to stick with the same supplier out of safety concerns, despite the large price differential. They may even try to convince the staff that any smaller company may have harmful, gray-market products. This is unfair to dental professionals who rely on their reps for honest information. At Supply Clinic, we take the guesswork out of shopping, so you can search and buy easily and safely.

On a different (but related) note, one should not assume that a new product is worse because it is made in China, or any other country. Many are shocked to learn that their impression trays or burs or [fill in any dental supply here] they’ve been purchasing for years from their trusted big distributor are actually made in China as well!

So what do I do with all this info?!

Freak out.  

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And once you’re done with that, start making informed purchasing decisions. Skepticism of prices quoted from reps of big distributors is healthy. And skepticism of products from a new source is also healthy, especially on sites like Amazon that have not traditionally specialized in healthcare supplies (and may not discern a legitimate source from a gray one).

If you’re purchasing from a new online source, inquire about gray market and supply chain. Make sure that the company is doing proper due diligence for patient-sensitive products, as we are here at Supply Clinic. A good rule of thumb is that if a company won’t even engage in a conversation about gray market, it’s probably gray.

Gray market is an important topic to address. As its name would suggest, it’s far from black-and-white. Dentists ought to be aware of what they’re buying and where they’re buying from, but discerning enough to avoid dramatically overpaying just because a sales representative tries to scare them.

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