Basic inventory management

By Sheri B. Doniger, DDS

We have a lot of items in our dental offices, and the list of supplies can be overwhelming. The question is: who is in charge of keeping the inventory under control? As a team member, you would like all the pieces in place when you start the day.

Who is the point person for ordering in your office? Who should order which supplies? There should not be any blame game going on. You never want to be caught in the middle with team members, with one thinking the other is responsible for inventory control and supply purchase.

The easiest way is to have an accounting of necessary supplies so the practice never runs short. You remember old Murphy and his law? A missed item never comes at an opportune time. There is no phrase more catastrophic than, “We ran out of A2 composite.” Well, unless you need another shade and that one is missing too.

The dental office usually works on a teamwork model. As there is a place for everything and everything has its place, there is a role for everyone and those roles may be interchangeable or reliant on others for support. Inventory control involves communication between all team members; it’s not merely one assistant’s responsibility.

Does your office have a protocol for inventory control? Is there a standard to order? Do you have a preferred vendor list? These items are frequently told to employees via word of mouth. Sometimes, new employees are randomly informed of their duties and rely on the “telephone game” — Susie told Jane, Jane told Margaret, Margaret told the new person. On rare occasions, the new person may not be informed by anyone and be expected to miraculously deduce what is needed and where it is ordered from. As we all know, this leads to major disaster. There are also the major team members — the dentist, dental hygienist, and dental assistant. All of them know what they’re doing and what they need, but where is it codified?

Dental office manuals, which set forth policies and procedures, should have a section for inventory control. Discuss delegation responsibilities as well as protocol for ordering. Setting up an ordering system is one way to help the office run smoother, and ensures excellent communication between all team members. All items should be assessed once a year, catalogued, and included in this very important systems manual. Dental products change. Your clinician’s preference may go from sticking with the product used for 30 years, or changing with new technology each year. Regardless, it is imperative that a master list be created. This way, if a new team member is hired, he or she may check with the product catalogue and be aware of the need for each item.

Another reason for inventory assessment is to check for expired products. We are not in charge of dental suppliers’ stockrooms. As we assume they will send us the freshest product available, we may have a short time usage for particular products. It is also useful to assess and evaluate if the clinician is using certain restoratives. Offices are only so large. It’s best to clean out supplies not used in a timely manner.

Establishing a routine of inventory control allows it to be reviewed periodically during the month. This should definitely be part of a job description. Although everyone should be knowledgeable about the products they routinely use, a point person should do the actual supply ordering. It goes without saying that the dentist should be kept in the loop about all products ordered. An inventory control template (Table 1) is an example of how to catalogue the office. Once a routine is established and the correct amount is decided upon, a monthly assessment of products on hand can be easily determined. Ordering becomes easier and less stressful.

Table 1: Sample product inventory control template including initials of team member involved in each task

Click here to see chart larger.

It is easier to assess the current needs and then project for future needs, rather than trying to stockpile products. As noted, some of these products come with expiration dates. Some offices are too small to store large amounts of patient napkins or paper towels, even though they don’t expire. Dental salespeople who visit our office sometimes have outstanding product offers, but we need to assess want vs. need.

To run an efficient dental practice, we need functioning equipment and adequate supplies. Inventory control is integral to a smooth-functioning dental office. This creates a calm, flowing work environment and eliminates the stress of a missing component.

Author bio
Sheri B. Doniger, DDS, has been in the private practice of family and preventive dentistry for more than 20 years. A dental hygiene graduate of Loyola University prior to receiving her dental degree, her current passion is focusing on women's health and well-being issues. She may be contacted at (847) 677-1101 or donigerdental@aol.com.

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