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Tackling composite inventory management

Aug. 1, 2020
Each year, Dr. Joshua Austin's office sets aside a half day to go through all of their storage closets, cabinets, and drawers to throw out any expired, empty, broken, or no-longer-used products.

Each year, my office sets aside a half day to go through all of our storage closets, cabinets, and drawers to throw out any expired, empty, broken, or no-longer-used products. As you can imagine, items can quickly add up. Those wasted products aren’t just garbage can filler—they’re tangible examples of excess overhead and financial loss. 

With so many of these products being made out of plastic and other environmentally harmful materials, tossing them into the trash not only hurts your bottom line but also the planet. My practice is working to become more environmentally friendly, and one way we’re doing that is by reducing our waste.

Stop and think about how many products you threw away during your last spring-cleaning efforts. Were you surprised by the number of products you had to throw out? Are you seeing an increase in the number of wasted products through the years? Though we cannot avoid all waste, there are plenty of ways we can minimize it. 

Find the right brand

While your inventory management can include materials ranging from cements to adhesives and everything in between, one of the biggest culprits of wasted product is composites, and specifically, universal composites.

Because universal composites often come with a variety of shades, the rare ones can end up in the garbage after time. In order to avoid this, have your team take notes on which composite shades your practice uses most frequently. Keep track of the most common shades so that when it is time to reorder products, you purchase only what you need. 

I also encourage people to look for a manufacturer that offers universal composites with fewer shade options. Rather than using a brand with dozens of shades, including rare ones that your practice may not use, it’s worth trying a manufacturer option that offers a more manageable number.

When using a product with fewer shades, it’s important that those shades still get the job done. Look for a product that is not only easy to use, but also blends well and successfully matches the dentition. One option that I’ve found works well is Filtek Universal Restorative (3M).

Plan strategically

As I mentioned, a great way to successfully manage your inventory is to monitor the products that you use the most and place orders only for the items you truly need. If, for example, you find that you hardly ever use C4 composites, avoid ordering them from the manufacturer. This will save you time and money in the long run.

I also encourage you to work directly with other dentists in your area. Two ways you can use those relationships is by trading rare shades with one another or by buying and splitting a pack of composites. In addition to cutting down on unused inventory, this is an easy way to build a strong network of dentists near you.

Who knows what those relationships can turn into; maybe today you share inventory and tomorrow you share practice tips. By connecting with dentists in your area, you’ll create a support system that can come in handy in the future, whether you need a sounding board for a difficult case or a partner-in-crime for the next tradeshow. 

No more hoarding

Another activity that can lead to an inventory surplus is hoarding, whether by you or a member of your team. While this may be done with good intentions, purchasing excess products and squirrelling them away is not helpful for the practice. Oftentimes, this is done without other team members even realizing it until someone happens to stumble upon two months’ worth of supplies.

To prevent this, communication among team members is critical. Employees should keep tabs on the level of products available and inform one another when they are ordering products or when a specific one is running low. You will also want to make sure that all purchases are reviewed and tracked to avoid any hoarding or unnecessary ordering.

Reviewing expiration dates

Another tactic that can lead to less wasted inventory is a straightforward but very important one: frequently check product expiration dates. Just like going through your fridge to search for and throw out expired food, you or a team member should be periodically reviewing the products on hand to ensure nothing has expired. 

In addition to checking the products you’ve already purchased, make sure to ask your supplier for the freshest items when you place orders. For products that you use frequently, a close expiration date may not be an issue. But for rare products you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of time to make use of the items.

By following any number of these tips, you can successfully decrease the number of wasted products in your practice. You will feel better knowing that you are limiting the amount of excess overhead, saving money, and even protecting the environment by avoiding the unnecessary use of plastics.

JOSHUA AUSTIN, DDS, MAGD, writes the Pearls for Your Practice column in Dental Economics. After working as an associate for several years, in 2009 Dr. Austin opened a solo general practice in a suburban area of San Antonio, Texas. Dr. Austin is involved in all levels of organized dentistry and can be reached at [email protected].

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