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What Do You Need to Know About Ordering Dental Supplies?

Posted May 2, 2017

Laura Hatch

Given that I’ve been an office manager for over 10 years, you would think I would have everything in my dental office running perfectly or at the very least know everything that is going on in every department. However, as an office manager, I am more of a “jack of all trades, master of none,” which in my opinion is what makes a good office manager.  You have to know a little bit about everything but not get too deep into one task or area.

Dental OfficeI am here to admit that I don’t know a lot about the clinical area—more specifically, dental supplies and ordering.  I know the front, and how to run the whole dental business, but the back office always seemed to just run under our dentist’s management with the direction of our clinical team.  Recently, I decided it was time to learn about the back and make sure it was running as it should or figure out how to improve it.  Since I have never been clinical, it was necessary for me to first spend some time trying to learn more than the little I knew.

These are the 3 things I knew about dental supplies before I knew anything about dental supplies.

  • They are important, because when you run out of them you may not be able to deliver dentistry at all. Or, if you try to provide care but without the right products, you may do it at a lower quality.
  • A lot of doctors are focused on how high their overhead is and some attempt to lower their overhead by (for example) paying their dental assistant to find cheaper gloves, even if they have to pay her for several hours of work to do that.
  • According to the people I’ve spoken to about this, dental supplies should be approximately 5-6% over your overhead (and that may vary some if you are a CAD/CAM office).

Based on  just these three things, I spent time learning more about ordering supplies best practices. I talked with our sales reps, talked with my dental assistant who does our ordering, read articles I found on the Internet written by experts in our industry, and went to dental groups I am part of on social media and asked others.  During the process of educating myself on how our office orders dental supplies, I realized one very important thing— there are many ways to do this  and there is not necessarily one right way.

I did learn a few things through suggestions by several people and it makes sense to share with others who may be on the same mission to order supplies in the best way possible. I have compiled 8 tips for revamping your dental supply ordering  process

  • Have one person, and only one person, in charge of ordering. This person should be organized, efficient, and always looking for ways to save money. They should understand there is a fine line between ordering in large quantities to save money and ordering too much that will sit in the back and expire before getting used.
  • Have a system for reordering. The worst thing that can happen is failing to have a system in place so that you run out of product and are not able to deliver dentistry. There are multiple systems that can work. However, the one I found to be most often used was the tag system, in which employees pull the tag of the product when it’s getting low, indicating that it is time to reorder.
  • Keep the rooms stocked and supplies organized. There should be some organization to the supply area in each room. If necessary, have the entire inventory labeled and documented. This makes it easy for anyone to know what goes where when they are putting away supplies or looking for something specific.  Also, keeping the rooms fully stocked will aid staff in knowing how much product is in the back, so that it becomes clear when it is time to order again.
  • Save money by planning ahead. Don’t wait until the last minute to reorder supplies that are low. Most suppliers will offer free delivery or a lower bulk cost if you order with no rush or at high quantities. On the other hand, having to pay a rush delivery to get supplies in time for a scheduled procedure is obviously not a cost-saving approach. By planning ahead for upcoming procedures and ordering in plenty of time, you will save money in shipping and rush fees.
  • It pays to be loyal. Building a relationship with a dental supply company and giving them a significant amount of business will allow them to help you out when you need it in many ways. When your office orders enough with one company, they will make sure to work with you a little more to get you specials on price, help you with a loaner when a piece of equipment goes down, and many other things.
  • Go directly to the manufacturer. Sometimes the manufacturer of the actual supply can get you a better deal or offer than if you work with a dental supply distributor. Get in contact—and stay in contact—with all the representatives of the manufacturers used by your office so you can work with them directly when it makes sense.
  • Know which times are the best time to buy. There are certain times of year when companies run the best specials or deals. Knowing these times and holding your purchases until then will allow you to take advantage of those extra savings.  This is also a good time to plan for the future by purchasing a little extra, if it makes sense, to hold you over until the next time this deal is offered.
  • Watch supply spending, but not so much that it’s a detriment to your office. A good business owner always should watch spending and it is no different with dental supplies. However, don’t focus so much on the bottom line that you lose sight of bigger goals, like helping your office to grow. As I mentioned before, don’t have your dental assistant spend a lot of time trying to save a few cents on gloves, when instead she or he could be spending time with the patients in the office—helping to build long-term patients, case acceptance, and referrals.

One more word about being strategic while saving money in your office. It’s important for your office to have a strong scheduling system in place and for it to be well-organized and documented.  This will ensure that your team is doing all that can be done to keep the cost down in this area and allow your office to produce the best dentistry that you can.  If you are following the suggestions in this article about lowering the percentage of what you spend on dental supplies, the best thing you can do is to grow and produce more.  For example, let’s say your dental supplies are at 8% and you are producing $50,000.  If you increased your production to $65,000, then the percentage spent on dental supplies would go down to 6%.  That’s why my final suggestion is make sure you are doing all that you can in this area to save money, then get to work!

Want to read more from Laura?  Visit or visit our YouTube channel to view a video.


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