Dental professionals share strategies for better managing dental composite inventory and reducing waste.
Unless you are immune to the frustration of buying expensive composite materials only to throw them out unused a year later, you know that managing dental composite inventory is a priority for many dental practices.
But what goes wrong, and what can you do about it? We spoke with dental professionals to discover some common mistakes dental practices make with their composite inventory and how to avoid them.
Mistake No. 1: No Protocol in Place to Know What You Have on Hand
Troy Schmedding, DDS, AAACD, says the biggest mistake is that clinicians and their teams lose sight of the inventory. Without a storage protocol, it can get a bit willy-nilly regarding inventory management.
How to avoid it
At Dr Schmedding’s private practice, Family Dentistry of Walnut Creek in California, they use a low-tech solution: clear plastic bins with labels in each operatory. The practice doesn’t have a ton of material sitting in the laboratory, and the clear plastic bin allows them to see their inventory of shades.
“It’s a fast way to track inventory and avoid being out of one you need,” Dr Schmedding says.
Mistake No. 2: Not Tracking Expiration Dates Digitally
R. Kim Bleiweiss, MBA, MEd, president and general manager of Lean Dental Solutions, Inc and inventor and developer of Grasshopper Mouse Inventory Control System, says a common mistake in many inventory control systems is failing to track the critical dates and lot numbers for perishable products. Some inventory management systems do not require entering details like expiration dates. Unfortunately, Bleiweiss explains that when an expiration is looming, the practice doesn’t have that information at its fingertips to respond.
“They’ve got to have that accountability to enter and track the expiration dates,” Bleiweiss says.
How to avoid it
Bleiweiss designed Grasshopper Mouse to require expiration dates for perishable items when entering inventory into an account. Also, the system doesn’t allow entering any inventory into the system with an expiration date of less than 2 months from the present date. Bleiweiss says the system also alerts the team that they received a product with a “short date” on it.
“Then they can call their supplier and let them know they are sending the product back,” Bleiweiss says.
The system provides for tracking lot numbers for critical items such as pharmaceuticals, bone grafting materials, and injectable anesthetics. Then if there is a recall for any particular lot of products, the practice knows whether that information applies to what they have on the shelf.
Mistake No. 3: Buying Without Trying
Abir Bou Khouzam, senior marketing manager for Tokuyama Dental America Inc, agrees that stock management is a significant issue for many dentists, often because of their purchasing habits. For example, clinicians want to try new products and take advantage of the launch’s promotional deal, often buying multiple packs.
“This is where the problem arises,” Bou Khouzam says. “You keep trying new stuff, buying new products that add value to your practice. But, at the same time, you have so many things in your cabinets that you don’t use.”
In part, the lack of an inventory management system contributes here, too, she says. If clinicians forget what they already have, they are more likely to overpurchase in inventory when they see a good deal.
How to avoid it
Bou Khouzam advises clinicians to sample before buying and adding it to their inventory. Many companies offer samples, she says, including Tokuyama.
“Once they sample and like the product, then they purchase. They don’t have to purchase and stock up just because we have good deals,” Bou Khouzam says.
Mistake No. 4: Having Too Many Different Shades of Composite Inventory
Most dental practices have a ton of shades of composites hanging around that linger on the shelves until they expire, Dr Schmedding says. Most of the time, however, dental practice uses 2 or 3 shades for 85% to 90% of their dental work.
How to avoid it
Dr Schmedding says that trying the new composites available today would help.
“You’re talking about systems with 5 or 6 shades covering the whole VITA shade guide now. So your inventory is really easy to manage if you use these newer composites,” he says.
Dr Schmedding adds that nanohybrids and universal composites are excellent materials with excellent physical properties and aesthetics that simplify inventory management for your office. Dr Schmedding says that he also likes to include universal composites that claim one shade does it all, although he doesn’t think that claim is 100% true.
“They don’t do it all, but they can cover most of your posterior composite dentistry,” he says. “For instance, Clearfil Majesty ES-2 Universal, which I use from Kuraray [America, Inc], is an unbelievable composite in terms of handling, finishing, and polishing. It covers a majority of restorations in the posterior, where I am not overly concerned about a 100% match. So universals are great to have.”
The bottom line, he says, is that simplified shade and universal systems have made it easier for practices to have what they need, when they need it.
Mistake No. 5: Not Monitoring the Temperature of the Storage
Managing the storage temperature of composite materials is essential. However, that doesn't mean everything needs to be in the fridge. If the practice’s storage area(s) aren’t susceptible to extreme temperatures, the product should be fine.
Bleiweiss says many dental practices rely on a nearby thermostat to monitor the temperature, even though it might not give an accurate reading of the temperature in the storage areas.
“The thermostat measures the temperature where the thermostat is,” Bleiweiss notes, adding that it doesn’t account for ventilation or “hot spots” in the room.
Adding to the problem is that many practices may not know the details about how temperature affects their products, Bleiweiss explains. Familiarity with these particulars can improve the product’s performance.
For example, the conversion rate of the monomers in many resin composites increases with the temperature. So the warmer it is, the quicker it will set, Bleiweiss explains. Unfortunately, this decrease in working time can cause problems for some clinicians.
How to avoid it
The solution is simple here and relatively low tech.
“Keep an eye on that temperature with a thermometer in the area near where [you] store [your] perishable products,” Bleiweiss says.
Mistake No. 6: Forgetting to Rotate the Inventory
A detail easily overlooked is properly rotating the inventory, Dr Schmedding says.
“A lot of times, offices aren’t really tracking or using the older stuff first and keeping the newer stuff for later as you siphon through the inventory,” Dr Schmedding says.
Bou Khouzam agrees that many dentists do not check expiration dates often enough, nor do they rotate inventory.
How to avoid it
Simplification is essential here. Seeing what you have in the operatory (ie, in the clear plastic bin) helps you pluck out the oldest one and save the newer stuff for later, Schmedding says.
Bou Khouzam suggests treating inventory like a grocery store would, putting the stock with the closest expiration date to the front of the inventory.
Mistake No. 7: Overordering and Forgetting About Opportunity Costs
Dr Schmedding and Bleiweiss understand that taking advantage of promotions offering significant savings sounds like a good idea at the time. However, every time you buy inventory for your practice, an opportunity cost exists, Bleiweiss explains. An opportunity cost is an idea that one loses the potential gain from another choice when selecting an alternative option.1
Bleiweiss says dental practices might save money on individual products, but they lose out if it expires before they use it or if they stop using that product for something new. Instead, he says that dental practices should use an inventory control system and have fewer products in stock, freeing up their capital.
For example, Bleiweiss did an inventory analysis for one of his Grasshopper Mouse clients. The office had more than $70,000 in inventory inspired by an offer of many complimentary items for a substantial purchase.
Bleiweiss says that the ideal amount of inventory investment annually should be no more than 6% of the total annual revenue. For example, if that practice has a yearly income of approximately $1 million, it would want an inventory investment closer to $60,000. That means the practice had unnecessarily tied up approximately $10,000 of its capital.
How to avoid it
To prevent overordering, Dr Schmedding says a practice should have a system to take advantage of promotions at a dental convention or something similar—where you may order about every 6 months—but that you are making sure not to order more than you can use in a timely fashion.
Grasshopper Mouse operates on the concept of having as little inventory on hand as a dental practice can get away with, which is usually a month’s worth. Bleiweiss notes that some practices can go down to as little as 2 weeks because most suppliers can fill a back order within that time frame.
"If they have a well-controlled inventory system and can get away from the philosophy of squeezing every dime instead of looking at the big picture, dental practices can make a big difference in the money they are spending on supplies,” Bleiweiss says.
Mistake No. 8: Buying the Master Kit
Sometimes manufacturers have a master kit that includes all the shades, but Dr Schmedding says that most of the time, dentists don’t need it. For example, in a 32-shade system, dentists throw away 29 of them.
Bou Khouzam agrees, adding that extreme shades are often thrown away. She says she understands why it happens; clinicians want happy patients, which might mean having the rarely used shade in the cabinet. However, there is a cost to that approach.
“Losing money due to waste because of expiry is not something that helps, especially now after the pandemic and all the wasted stock after [COVID-19]. Plus there’s inflation everywhere," Bou Khouzam says.
How to avoid it
Dr Schmedding advises dentists to work into a refill-the-inventory-you-use situation and then to keep track of it by having it laid out in front of them.
“I have a lot of resin composites for the aesthetic cases. We have the clears, the ambers, and the translucent. So we have them, but in very small supplies. Depending on what type of dentistry you’re doing, you may have some situations where you don’t use all that stuff often,” Dr Schmedding says.
Bou Khouzam agrees, adding that the OMNICHROMA One-Shade Universal composite (Tokuyama Dental America) can help here too. Designed to match every patient from A1 to D4 with a single shade, the composite allows clinicians to avoid keeping a lot of the extreme shades in inventory. She explains that streamlining processes and cutting down the stock can produce cost savings, which clinicians can then invest in other parts of the practice.
"OMNICHROMA is trying to make this an easier task for the dentist so they have less product to worry about," Bou Khouzam says.
Key Takeaways of Composite Inventory
So what are the key takeaways here? First, Dr Schmedding notes that it’s about making a system and following it so that keeping track of inventory is simple.
“You have to know what you have in your office because managing that is important. Composites are not overly cheap to be buying continually,” Dr Schmedding says. “You have to have systems and protocols, much like you have when you do your procedures or for office management or new patient intake. You have to have the same thing for composites too, a manageable system that allows everyone to be on the same page.”
In addition, Dr Schmedding suggests having one person in charge of inventory. Ownership of the task helps ensure regular stock management, which can slip through the cracks at a busy practice.
Bleiweiss agrees. “These are all things dental practices need to consider,” he says. “They need an inventory control system to help them cover their accountability for ensuring the fresh product is going into the patient’s mouth.”
Bou Khouzam says that committing to fewer composites will also help because there will be fewer products to order and manage. Plus, when clinicians commit to a system, they become familiar with how it handles and how to optimize its characteristics. This familiarity streamlines their restorative work, which results in time savings for treatments.
“There are so many good products on the market now, and the level of satisfaction with them is increasing because products are meeting and exceeding expectations, especially when it comes to composites,” Bou Khouzam says. “This means you have so many good products to choose from; you don’t have to have all types, shades, and brands. You can streamline and work with the composite system that meets your needs and helps you save time and money at the same time, without compromising anything regarding quality and aesthetics.”