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Quality Versus Price

Like a bargain? Don’t look for it in the dental gray market

June 15, 2021
Avoid gray market products. Sounds simple, yet some are willing to risk the reputation of the dental industry to save a few bucks. Don't let it be you.

Picture this: It’s Saturday afternoon, and you’re called into the office for an emergency. You just recemented a crown you had boasted about to your friends. You’ve done the same no. 19 e.max crown for years. What happened to this one?

You later learn that your office manager has been buying cheaper cement from the gray market. When you share this with some of your dental peers, you’re surprised to learn that your office manager is not alone. The gray market is thriving on the heels of an economy ravaged by the pandemic. It’s time to speak your mind and call this out for what it is: shameful.

There’s always one in every group who brags about how they acquired the same product at a fraction of the cost. Chances are they’re bragging about gray market dental products. Regardless of whether these people are innocently unaware of their mistakes or are knowingly bucking the system, you should call them out on it. If they don’t know what they’re doing, you’ll be doing the dental profession a favor. If they do know, maybe calling them out will reveal the shame they’ve brought on themselves. 

Much has been reported on the widespread availability of dental gray market items. For those who don’t know, gray market refers to products purchased from a means outside of the regulated distribution channels. The products often have one or more issues that make them inferior to the name brand competitors. They often look identical to the real products but fail compared to their legitimate counterparts when it comes to performance, cost, and most important, safety.

In some cases, these products could be nearing expiration, or could be from a bad batch set for destruction but sold for profit outside of normal distribution channels. Some have simply expired but might have that information erased from the packaging. Others are mishandled regarding their temperature restrictions and left in extreme warehouse conditions, inhibiting their ability to perform optimally or at all. The low prices can still make the products attractive to unsuspecting doctors, until the products fail, and the customers return to have procedures done again.

Many doctors are aware of the risks yet are still proud of their ability to find materials at rock-bottom prices. This habit can severely affect a practice when these products fail. Gray market products expose patients to serious health risks. Besides patient safety, other serious consequences for using these items include a ruined reputation and contributing to the overall stigma and fear of going to the dentist. If you’re a proponent of cheaper supplies, you might argue that you’ve never been called out by a patient for a failing product. Fair enough, but when you have a terrible steak at a steakhouse, do you go back to tell them it was horrible? Probably not. Many prefer to simply go elsewhere for their filet mignon. Ask yourself how many of your patients do not come back after one or two procedures? No idea? Are you seeing the big picture yet?

How to stay clear of the gray market

What can you do to avoid gray market products? The good news is that common sense will help you much of the way. Many manufacturers list their approved distributors online or will share that information if you contact them. Here's what to watch for during your purchasing routine.

1.    Significantly reduced prices from market average distributor pricing.

2.    Strange writing on labels or modifications to packaging.

3.    Online promotions that sell items as “refurbished.” There is no item that goes in a patient’s mouth that should be sold as “refurbished.”

4.    Purchases from a nonauthorized or unrecognizable distributor.

5.    Not returnable to legitimate manufacturer or approved distributor

Simply put, gray market users mimick the hard work of good dental professionals. They’re piggybacking on the reputations of good-natured, rule-abiding dentists and making a profit on something that compromises the industry. America has set high standards for the medical and dental products sold here for a good reason. We expect our health professionals to maintain a high level of pride in their workmanship and to not cut corners.

Using gray market products is unacceptable. No one should risk theirs and dentistry’s reputations and patient  safety for about 5% to 7% of a practice’s total budget. If you’re one of those who loves a good score, do yourself and your industry a favor: check out your local bakery outlet for expired goods to get your savings rush. Don’t let your love of a good bargain tarnish your reputation and hurt the dental industry overall. 

MATTHEW NEWMAN is the Director of Sales Operations, Marketing and Public Relations for CAD-Ray North America. a distributor of practical CAD/CAM solutions, and home of the Medit intraoral scanner. A 20-plus year veteran of operational management, he has spent his career in the fields of dental B2B, operations management, and hospitality. Newman writes articles about operational management, office synergy, startups, and a variety of other topics. He can be reached through direct message on LinkedIn.