13. Inventory Systems and Supply Ordering

Inventory Systems and Supply Ordering


The day-to-day activity of the busy dental office is stressful enough without worrying about supplies. Stress increases when a necessary item is out of stock. Whether it is the dental hygienist who reaches for a fluoride rinse and there is none available, or if the clinical assistant suddenly realizes that there is no more of a specific dental cement, it is a factor that diminishes productivity and profitability. An effective inventory control system in invaluable, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. A simple list taped to the inside of the supply cabinet can be just as effective as an inventory control on a computer or an Internet system. An important issue in inventory control is organization. There must be a plan, and each member of the team must understand how it works, and each person must assume responsibility to carry through with their part of the system. In this chapter the reader will learn about a variety of factors that can make the dental office become more organized in inventory control and will have the opportunity to review several systems.

Although one person may be assigned to ordering and maintaining supplies, the actual inventory control is the responsibility of the entire staff. In some dental offices the dental hygienist is responsible for ordering supplies related to the preventive area of practice. Those individuals responsible for the clinical areas of the office must note how much product is left when restocking the treatment rooms. When the product is low, there must be a communication system to indicate it is time to reorder the product. Most systems enable the administrative assistant to keep a record of order dates and product costs. This helps track when a supply is received and how much of a product is being used. In most situations, the person using the last item is required to add the product to the purchasing list or be certain an automated system has logged it into an order.

One person should be in charge of ordering, receiving, and storing supplies; managing hazardous waste; and maintaining Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) (p. 244). Because the practice has both a business side and a clinical side, a business staff member may order all the business supplies, and a clinical staff member may be responsible for managing clinical supplies and hazardous materials. However, as mentioned, all staff members are responsible for noting whether supplies are low or exhausted as they perform their daily tasks.

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Whether at chairside, in the laboratory, or in the business office, dental professionals find it frustrating to reach for an item and find only an empty box.


Basic Categories

Supplies can be divided into three basic categories: expendable supplies, nonexpendable supplies, and capital supplies. Expendable supplies are single-use items such as dental cements, stationery, local anesthetics, and gypsum products. Nonexpendable supplies are reusable items that do not constitute a major expense; this category includes most dental instruments. Capital supplies are large, costly items that are seldom replaced, such as computers, sterilizers, and dental units.

Selecting Supplies

Not all materials can be purchased from one supplier, and buying from several suppliers may be more economical. Shopping locally promotes good relations and stimulates the local economy, but for economic reasons a dentist may order supplies from a larger catalog or discount house.

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Much of the efficiency of a dental office depends on a systematic and economical approach to ordering supplies.

A dental supply house can provide all the basic dental supplies, both brand name and generic. Purchasing from the dealers in a local area is convenient, but many large wholesale supply houses provide quick service and special rates. Making use of toll-free telephone numbers or online ordering also can speed up service. Make sure the vendor is reliable; the materials must be quality products and, where applicable, must meet American Dental Association (ADA) specifications.

Many dealers send a representative to the office routinely to obtain an order. The administrative assistant should have the order prepared or information available as listed in one of the inventory management systems. A manufacturer’s representative who wants to see the dentist about a new product may accompany the supply person. If the dentist’s schedule does not allow time to meet with the representative, obtain information about new products and relay the information to the dentist later.

Medicaments, which are not specifically dental items, can be purchased from a local pharmacy. Surgical supply companies sell materials such as thermometers, surgical scissors, and hemostats.

Business materials are available from local business office supply stores or by online ordering. Some supplies, such as cleaning materials, must be purchased at local businesses or specialty companies.

For convenience, use an address file on the computer or create a list on the Rolodex of the business addresses and telephone numbers of all the companies patronized routinely (see Chapter 8).


The first step in inventory control organization is to streamline inventory management. An inventory system is a list of the stock and assets in the dental office. This list is divided into two parts, capital equipment and expendable and nonexpendable supplies. Become familiar with the types and quantities of products and materials used in the office. Also become quickly familiar with the monetary value of the current inventory and what the minimum and maximum quantities of the products are for the office.

Capital Equipment Inventory Control

A spreadsheet can be used to maintain an inventory of capital equipment. For a spreadsheet, software such as Excel or Access can be used. The administrative assistant can track all the major categories of capital supplies and have vital purchase and warranty information at the fingertips. Figure 13-1, A, illustrates the headings on a spread sheet for each capital item and details important information about the item, including date of purchase, serial numbers, and any comments about the product including warranty dates. The system shown in Access in Figure 13-1, B, allows the development of a cardlike system within the software for each room or category wished. In both Excel and Access software, templates are available that can be adapted to the individual office needs. A spreadsheet system can save much time and guesswork about the servicing of equipment and can be helpful to the accountant in determining depreciation. This information should be reviewed frequently for necessary preventive maintenance service. Such service is best scheduled when the dentist is out of the office.

Expendable and Nonexpendable Supplies Inventory Control

Dental offices generally do not keep a large stock of nonexpendable supplies on hand; however, a list may be included in an inventory system if the dentist wishes. Because the expendable supplies require more attention, an inventory of these items is important. The inventory can be automated on a computer or maintained manually.

Automated Inventory Systems

An automated inventory system can be created through a special software package or database created individually. The system can be simple or complex. An automated inventory system set up in a centralized database allows the staff simply to enter the shipment data into the system and print new inventory reports. The system enters the inventory numbers in the accounts automatically, as long as the information is entered correctly. A simple system like this, done in the office, can work as effectively in some offices as a dealer inventory management system.

Most dental supply dealers provide inventory management systems for their customers. The type of system may vary, but some are tag systems in which products are placed in bins or containers with tags that identify the product, quantity to order, and reorder point for the product. When a product needs to be reordered, the tag is removed from the container and placed in a location where the dealer representative can access it and order the product. Other dealers provide systems that reference bar codes on the products or their storage containers/bins (Figure 13-2). When products need to be ordered, the representative uses a bar code reader to upload the product information and then download it into the dealer’s ordering system. Through these automated systems, the dental suppliers can provide customers with reports that summarize expenditures for products and supplies throughout the year, a useful tool in budgeting.

Such an inventory system provides an organized approach that utilizes the capable services of dental supply representatives a/>

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Jan 5, 2015 | Posted by in General Dentistry | Comments Off on 13. Inventory Systems and Supply Ordering
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