Dental Practice Inventory: 7 Tips to Finding the Right Balance

A 2019 Levin Group survey asked dentists what strategies they’re using to increase production and reduce overhead. One of the top three responses was “improving the management of supply inventory.” However, keeping an appropriately stocked inventory of materials and instruments is a bit of a balancing act. You have limited space, but you have a busy practice. You don’t want to be short of a material in the middle of an emergency procedure, but you also don’t want to keep whitening gel past its expiration date because you ordered too much. So, is there a trick to judicious ordering? Of course, there is. Keep these seven tips in mind and you and your practice should always have the right amount of fresh inventory in stock.

1. Designate two team members to keep track of inventory and place orders

Rather than hoping someone checks on supplies, ask a couple of your well-organized team members to take the reins. You could designate a single person to run the inventory show, but what if they have to take medical leave or move on to another position? Your best bet is to have two individuals work together to ensure accurate counts and smooth transitions during times of change. And give them the authority to place orders within a certain dollar amount so they don’t have to wait for your permission, which can slow the ordering process and potentially leave you in a tough spot if you run short on a particular item. Make this team’s first order of business to create a master product inventory catalog. This is the list everyone can refer to and work from going forward.

2. Develop an ordering protocol document that’s easily accessible

Creating clear and precise protocols is the best way to stay efficient and ensure everyone on your team understands your goals and vision, no matter what process or procedure you’re talking about, including product ordering. Work with your designated inventory managers to develop a plan and make sure everyone on your team has access to it. When new hires come on board, make the ordering protocol part of their orientation, whether they’re a hygienist, associate or front desk team member.

3. Communicate clearly with all staff about ordering protocols

Communication and transparency are key to good workflow and team rapport. If you don’t spend time explaining the ordering protocols to everyone on the team, an inevitable misstep or misunderstanding will occur. Ensuring everyone is in the know is how you create a strong, cohesive team. You’ve chosen specific individuals to be in charge of inventory, but the whole team needs to work together to ensure the process runs smoothly. Consider including product inventory to your morning-huddle conversations. Ask team members if they’ve noted any shortages or expired products in inventory, if they have concerns about any current products you’re using or if they want to suggest new products.

4. Develop an organization system

When you can clearly see what you have, you can more easily determine when it’s time to re-order. Don’t hide your products and instruments behind closed doors and inside opaque bins. Invest in open shelving and transparent organizational containers so that everyone can see what you have in stock. Label cabinets so you know where everything is and consider implementing a simple system that alerts you when a product should be ordered. For example, placing a colored band around one of the last products (such as flowable composite) will let you know when you grab it from the shelf that you should note in the master list that it needs to be ordered. Another way you can keep track of how much product you’re using on an average day and how much you should be ordering is to keep only enough product in each operatory that you know you’ll need that day. You might even want to consider working with an organizational expert who can help you design inventory space that works within the square footage of your practice.

5. Learn how to order around expiration dates

Don’t let anyone tell you that expired product is the cost of doing business. Savvy ordering and inventory management can help you avoid these kinds of losses. Start by being aware of and managing orders around expiration dates. Know what you use a lot of and what you use only occasionally. For those materials you use daily, a short expiration date (say six months out) isn’t a problem. For all other products, you want a two-year expiration date. And take a breath before jumping on promotions that might lead you to order more than you need. Are you really going to be able to use all that material before it expires? If not, you’re wasting money on what was presented to you as a great deal. Your Patterson rep can be a big help here. They’ll point you in the direction of deals that make sense for you and your practice.

6. Inventory planning and new solutions or products

What do you do when you hear about a new product or solution? Leverage your Patterson rep to help you determine where to start based on best practices. Your rep can provide you with insight into the new product and let you know whether it’s the right fit for your practice. No matter what, start small. You don’t want to purchase too much of a product you and your team haven’t used before. It may turn out that everyone really likes the tried-and-true product you’ve been using for years and aren’t happy with the way this new material handles. And what if that new impression material has a taste that patients balk at? Now you’re stuck with a year’s supply of something you’ll never use.

7. Perform annual inventory assessments

Once a year, assess your product inventory and catalog it in the master list your inventory managers created. Use this annual assessment to check expiration dates, review what you’ve placed repeated orders for and determine what you may not need to order much of going forward. If you introduced a new product into the ordering mix six months ago, this assessment will help you see whether it’s something you’ll continue using or perhaps it’s not right for the practice and can be removed from the master list. Share the results of this inventory with the rest of the team so they’re aware of any changes.

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This article originally appeared in Advantage by Patterson Dental. Read the digital publication here.