Top 5 Strategies to Help Dentists Offset Supply Chain Shortages

Supply chain issues have impacted every sector of life, including dental care. As these issues show no signs of slowing, the Incisor reviews steps dentists can take to avert major disruptions to their practice.

By Genni Burkhart

While the COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst, it’s not the sole cause of the supply disruptions we’re now experiencing in everything from hot sauce, critical semiconductors, baby formula, and N2O.

The current global supply chain issues have been worsened by a perfect storm consisting of:

  • A huge boom in demand post-lockdown.
  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the corresponding sanctions on Russia.
  • Expansive and continuous lockdowns happening across China.
  • The prolonged and lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result, countries around the world are paying more for everything from energy, food, transportation, housing, labor, and even oral healthcare.

In an article published by the New York State Dental Association (NYSDA), Roger Levin, DDS, general dentist and founder of the dental practice management consulting firm Levin Group, Inc. states, “The country is undergoing an economic transformation at the moment, and it’s increased the average supply cost in dental practices by somewhere between 2-3 percent.”

How Long Will this Last?

While prices continue to increase and the financial strain tightens, we’re all left wondering – how long will this last?

Supply chain issues are at the front of most investors’ minds, as they're the prime factor weighing on the 40-year high prices and record inflation. Currently, most experts seem in agreement that these problems will persist, at the very least, into next year. There was some optimistic hope that prices would fall back toward pre-pandemic levels, or at least 2 percent lower by the end of this year, but Market Watch predicts that “Today’s supply-chain policy challenges are a consequence of forgetting that other considerations besides economic efficiency matter, and that hands-on craft knowledge cannot be transmitted online. Unfortunately, problems that have been four decades in the making cannot be solved overnight.”

 

According to an article published in the Dental Tribune earlier this year, Jorge M. Gomez, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Dentsply Sirona, commented, “It’s hard to predict how long the supply chain issues are going to last because, again, this is not something unique to the dental industry. This is impacting pretty much all manufacturing industries globally, so we are a relatively small piece of that big, big equation.” He continues, “We are taking a lot of actions to minimize the impact.”

As experts predict that supply chain issues will last into next year, there are some useful strategies that dental practices can use to combat shortages and cut back on costs.

Strategies to Offset Dental Supply Chain Issues

  1. Supply and demand ordering: Roger Levin of the Levin Group suggests that dentists should only buy supplies as needed. By doing so you prevent waste and prevent converting cash into inventory.  While dentists might feel like they need to have a surplus of supplies on hand, most dental companies can still deliver in 24 hours for immediate shipments. However, if certain products are in short supply, consider increasing specific items based on use.
  2. Map out your individual supply chain: It’s time to map out and track your supplies and know where they’re coming from, and their “real time” availability. Doing this will allow you to work through supply chain issues by contacting suppliers directly and getting updated information on where their inventory stands, and who has the best ability to deliver on time and when you need it without falling into overstocking as stated above.
  3. Join a group purchasing organization or purchasing group: There's definitely power in numbers, and buying groups have the ability to negotiate and source with providers on a more scalable level than single practices. Dentists have a choice between a Group Purchasing Organization (GPO) and purchasing groups. The key difference is GPOs motivate suppliers to offer their members discounted pricing, as much as 20-25 percent and can save time and effort by mapping out the supply chain for you as the fundamental goal of their business.  A purchasing group is a “group” of businesses that team up to source the best prices and suppliers to increase their purchasing power through bulk buying and discounts themselves. This saves time by sharing the work of sourcing products and negotiation across all business in that purchasing group.
  4. Develop a “loyal customer” relationship with suppliers you most value and trust: Customer service means everything and establishing relationships with individuals you can directly contact at your supply companies can mean all the difference in getting what you need when you need it. Most dental suppliers have been very helpful when it comes to supporting dentists to the best of their ability, especially with supply shortages. If you can establish a relationship with a sales or customer contact person instead of a 1-800 number, you will be able to better communicate your needs and understand their abilities. Some might even be able to lead you in the right direction for the best resources if they are unable. It all comes down to the relationship, and how much they value their loyal customer base.
  5. Diversify and cut out the middle man: If you’re relying on one or two suppliers, it might be time to evaluate them and do so regularly, according to an article in Nerd Wallet. They also suggest buyers not rest on their laurels, find out how much that company values you as a customer. Are you getting the best price? How’s their customer service? Do they respond is a timely and professional matter when there’s an issue? It doesn’t hurt to ask these questions and do it on a regular basis. Have back-up resources by diversifying where and who you buy from. It also helps to cut out the middleman. This might take a little more time and research, but it plays into the ability to diversify. Perhaps you’re happy with your supplier, even if they're a middleman, but if a supply issue comes up can you go directly to the supplier to avoid delays and bypass extra vendor warehouses and red tape?

In Conclusion

Even the most experienced experts cannot 100 percent predict the end of the supply chain issues. As snags continue to germinate into more and more sectors of our economy, dentists should develop a backup plan and implement strategies to avoid supply issues that can negatively impact their dental practices.

Even in the best of times there is no way to precisely know exactly what’s around the corner. As we find ourselves treading into a bear market, under increased inflation, and the likelihood of a recession it’s time to make a purchasing plan that allows your practice to weather any supply storm on the horizon.

 

Author: With over 12 years as a published journalist, editor, and writer Genni Burkhart’s career has spanned politics, healthcare, law, business finance, technology, and news. She resides on the western shores of the idyllic Puget Sound where she works as the Editor in Chief for the Incisor at DOCS Education out of Seattle, WA.

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