By Ahmed Shams, TDA Perks Supplies

Many offices may be paying higher prices for products because of the need for next-day delivery. When you buy a car, you wouldn’t tell the dealer you only care about the interest rate, or number of payments, or monthly payment—and not the purchase price. Similarly, you shouldn’t pay a premium on dental supplies because you need everything tomorrow.

If your primary determinant when ordering supplies is delivery time, you’ll likely pay much higher prices for your order.

Create an Inventory Management System.

By having an inventory management system, lead time can be factored into a simple formula you control; not something you pay for. Control the variables associated with your order and system, and you’ll be less reliant on any individual supplier. Creating and refining an inventory management system isn’t the most exciting item on a dental office’s to-do list. But it’s rewarding to have one—and well worth the effort.

Implement the following simple practices, and you’ll have an effective system that reduces the likelihood of your office running out of necessary products or overstocking, increases accountability among staff, and likely will save your practice thousands of dollars per year.

1. Identify What You Need to Control.

Identify all items you want to control. Include expensive items and items with a short shelf life. Also include large items that use a lot of shelf space (if space is scarce), even if they are inexpensive items like cases of patient bibs, paper towels, etc.

Now, create a list of those items that’s accessible to anyone authorized to take out of inventory—whether it’s the dental assistant preparing a tray or restocking operatory inventory, or the doctor grabbing the just-ordered bonding kit. This list can be as simple as a printed inventory-control log in your stock room, or it can be handled by a full-suite inventory management software.

2. Keep a Log. Build Accountability.

When someone takes a controlled item out of inventory, ensure it’s logged every time. Practically, you need only a few pieces of information to be logged: item, quantity, date and initials of whoever is taking the product.

People feel more accountable when putting their name on something, and starting the act of taking an item out of inventory with an accountable mindset is a good thing. This can have the added benefit of reducing waste.

3. Know Your Usage. Create Order Triggers.

Many practices order dental and office supplies using the “eyeball” method; or worse, the “oh no, we’re almost out” method. While usage of individual items varies, and exact monthly usage can’t always be predicted with great accuracy, certain items are used fairly consistently. They’re typically the items you use the most. Identify those first.

For everything else you don’t use as frequently, it’s imperative to know two things:

  1. How many days from the moment you order (from your preferred supplier of the item) it will take to receive it. Build in room for vendor backorders, shipping delays, etc.
  2. How many units you expect to use per day. Be fairly liberal, but reasonable.
    Multiply the days it takes to receive an order by the daily usage, and add any safety stock you think makes sense. This is your reorder point (ROP). Once stock gets to this quantity, it’s time to reorder. Make sure to factor in all of your inventory—from the stockroom to the operatory cabinets.

A Simple System to Let You Know When to Reorder

Whether you keep inventory in a common stockroom, then fill operatory cabinets and mobile carts; or grab on an as-needed basis, the critical element is to have a system that tells you what you have, and when you need to reorder.

A technique some offices use to build redundancy is keeping a simple card system. If your reorder point for A2 composite is 7 packs, in your primary stock, place an index card between the 7th and 8th packs. Once the 8th pack is taken out of inventory, the card will be the signal that it’s time to reorder the item, or add it to the soon-to-order list.

Keep a small basket next to the inventory-control log for these cards to be placed in as they’re exposed, and have whoever is responsible for reordering check the basket regularly.

Final Note

Once you build an inventory management system that controls for the relevant variables, you can effortlessly and effectively take control and make whatever changes you need to (e.g. who orders what, how often, what is ordered from which supplier[s]). You’ll have a just-in-time system that’s tailored to your office and preferred suppliers.

You may find that you prefer to place more frequent smaller orders, but be careful of extra shipping fees some suppliers charge for smaller orders. (TDA Perks partner offers 100% free ground shipping for any order, regardless of quantity or dollar amount.)