Letter from the EDITOR

Aug. 7, 2015
The focus of this issue is the dental gray market. If you don't know what the dental gray market is, here's an analogy.

The focus of this issue is the dental gray market. If you don't know what the dental gray market is, here's an analogy.

Imagine you work in an office. One day you are sitting at your desk, answering an e-mail. Then, suddenly, a structural beam above your desk falls and crushes your computer, your desk, and the pictures of your family on top of it. In the investigation that follows, it's discovered that the structural beam was faulty. Why? It turns out the contractor who built your office hired a subcontractor, and that subcontractor cut a corner. Instead of buying construction materials from his usual source, the subcontractor saved $150,000 by purchasing from a supplier he found through a friend of a friend. In the days that follow, lawsuits are filed. Your company sues the contractor. The contractor sues subcontractor. The subcontractor sues the supplier . . .

But there's a catch. The supplier is nowhere to be found.

The supplier, it seems, has packed up his things and disappeared. Gone overnight. The subcontractor goes bankrupt with legal bills. The contractor protracts the court battle, bleeding cash. Your company's lawyers determine that damages will likely never be recovered, so they decide to drop the case. The local press picks up on the story. People start pointing fingers. Contractors in your area are questioned about their business practices. People say that the building association should have prevented this kind of thing. The building association says the manufacturer is a fault . . . that the government should step in . . . and on and on . . .

Yet despite all the noise, all the finger-pointing, all the legal mumbo jumbo, this fact remains: Ultimately it doesn't matter who's responsible-you nearly got crushed by a structural beam, and you should probably be dead.

The dental gray market is just like that. Products and equipment enter the supply chain through unsavory, clandestine means and ultimately end up in patients' mouths. Sometimes the consequences are minor-a bonding product fails because it sat in a shipping crate in the port of Miami for too long. But sometimes the consequences are major-an off-brand hand piece from China exploding in the mouth of a patient, as one did in England recently.

Yet the gray market isn't black and white-its "grayness" lies in the fact that products are entering the supply chain through varied degrees of deception. In fact, the lightest "shade" of gray market products are hardly dangerous at all. What is scary, however, is that the gray market is a slippery slope that ends in counterfeit, black market goods, and real threats to patient safety. What's even more scary, perhaps, is the size and scope of the gray market and the fact that many of our peers don't know about it. Until recently, I was one of them.

Associate Editor Erin Robinson and Editorial Art Director Chad Wimmer have done an outstanding job preparing this feature. An infographic explains the problem's "shades of gray," an expert panel discusses the current state of problem, and the results of an Apex360 audience survey give you insight into what your peers think about this critical issue.

The end of the dental gray market will come when enough dentists, manufactures, politicians, and patients know about it. Use this issue to educate yourself and find out where you fit into the solution. I'll be right there with you.

Zac Kulsrud | Senior Editor

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