A Shifting Landscape of Dental Supplies Ordering

March 4, 2024

This article presents my humble perspective on the daily observations of my team and me regarding dental practices nationwide concerning the procurement of dental supplies.

Trend 1: One of the most significant trends I've noticed is the increasing popularity of buying groups. Especially after COVID-19, many dental practices are approached and express interest in saving money on supplies. Joining a buying group is a good starting point. Various options exist on the market, ranging from free memberships to monthly subscriptions ($125-$299/month). Most provide a wide range of savings options, including equipment, labs, credit card processing, and supplies. The following groups are encountered most frequently:

However, when evaluating different groups, it's evident that not all are the same. For example, if your practice frequently uses 3M products, Synergy might be a suitable option. But if you require the best prices across four main categories—Anesthetics, Disposables, Infection Control, and Gloves—then SourceClub is a more viable option. When evaluating a group, dental practices should ask the following questions related to their negotiated formulary:

  • Which manufacturers offer the deepest discounts?
  • How often are discounts negotiated?
  • Is pricing volume-based?
  • Does the buying group negotiate a percentage discount or a fixed price per product? (We recommend the latter.)

After posing these questions, practices can assess whether a particular group is beneficial. Most offices won't utilize all vendors, focusing on one or two main suppliers to maximize savings.

Personally, I'm not fond of simply sending the ten most popular items for price comparison and receiving a clickbait response claiming substantial savings on all ten. What truly matters is the entire 12-month order history, considering volume, meticulously reviewed by the buying group.

One concern we have at Zen regarding buying groups is the setup process. Suppose you choose a group and are ready to proceed. What comes next? Who sets up new accounts or ensures existing accounts are linked with the buying group? Often, this step is overlooked, resulting in offices continuing to pay full price to suppliers after joining a group. Another issue relates to ensuring practice staff knows to order from new vendors. Sometimes, a doctor may not even inform the ordering personnel of the change. This issue is easily addressed with established systems, like ZenOne. However, in the absence of such systems, it's crucial to have standard operating procedures (SOPs) reflecting the purchasing process (e.g., instructing the lead DA where to buy supplies).

By the way, many of the aforementioned issues will likely be resolved by AI very soon!

Trend 2: Labor costs are driving the adoption of tools that reduce manual work. This trend is evident. When an assistant earns $12/hr, they can conduct price shopping extensively. However, at $20-$25/hr, this isn't as feasible. At this point, most offices expect staff members to undertake higher-skill tasks, including managing the schedule. This begs the question: who then handles ordering, and when? This is where ordering platforms come into play. While we believe Zen is the best (apologies for the humble brag), other platforms on the market cover a full range of services, from ordering and inventory to payment processing.

Some examples include:

  • Dentira
  • Torch Dental,
  • Method,
  • CureMint,
  • WellPlaced,
  • Ordo, and
  • SupplyClinic
  • etc.

When selecting the right ordering platform for the practice, several considerations are crucial:

  • Data ownership: Ensure the practice owns all data and can access the entire database at any point.
  • Setup cost: There shouldn't be a setup cost to start using an ordering platform.
  • Trial period: Request a free trial to assess usability before committing.

Every dental practice should adopt an ordering platform for ease of use and to start collecting data. Having a wealth of data will be invaluable for future developments. You'll have something to train AI on!

Trend 3: Private practices are becoming savvier about where to save and are utilizing their freedom to invest in products that make a difference. We've noticed a trend where high-cost, high-quality products are purchased more frequently, while practices save money on disposable items by opting for generic brands. The five categories experiencing the most significant shift to generic brands are Disposables, Hygiene and Preventative, Infection Control, Anesthetics, and Gloves. This strategy keeps practices well below 5% of their collections and enables doctors to use high-quality products. It's a win-win! One small caveat: practices below 5% typically do not, at least intentionally, utilize free goods offers.

We will continue to track these and other trends from our practices and share our findings.


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