Why can’t we orthodontists get what we want: centralized ordering from a few suppliers; freedom to order the supplies we want; and to order affordably?

This column offers a close-up look at orthodontic product purchasing and how it is evolving. Orthodontic Products teamed up with Jeff Biggs, DDS, MS—who is not only the owner of his own private practice in Indiana, but also the founder and CEO of Orthodontic Details Marketplace, an online marketplace built for orthodontists’ purchasing needs—to get his unique insight into the orthodontist-supplier relationship and purchasing trends, and, more importantly, answer your questions. 

As orthodontists, we’re damn good at bringing order to chaos. It’s our job, after all. 

A patient enters our practice with a malocclusion that, left untreated, could create dental health, functional, and esthetic issues. By the time our treatment is complete, the malocclusion is corrected, and our patients benefit from our care. From chaos, order.

Naturally, the rest of our practice is orderly. Patients are scheduled with precision, consultations are efficient, and follow-ups happen systematically. And yet, when I chat with colleagues, there’s one persistent area of disorder (and frustration) in our practices: purchasing. 

Sure, we’ve all worked with staff to make purchasing bearable, but is there any other part of our life (professionally or personally) where “bearable” is acceptable? Where “it’s fine” is the goal? And at what cost?

Imagine managing staff the way we’re forced to manage purchasing. Their compensation would increase without notice, they’d randomly be unavailable and send a substitute, and we’d have to go to 20 different websites just to schedule them every month. Chaos.

It’s easy to grow numb to this chaos because, frankly, we’re so used to it. Backorders, quiet price increases, changing ordering sites, order delays… all commonplace. Not to mention the deceptively quiet drain of time and energy required just to conduct maintenance ordering from multiple suppliers.

Every month, hours and dollars slip through our fingers, and we don’t have the time or energy to address it. There’s a tension in product development (which my partner often reminds me of) that relates here. The saying goes: “Fast. Cheap. Good. You can only pick two.”

Twenty-plus years of orthodontic purchasing has taught me orthodontists have a similar tension. We have three options, but choosing any two of them precludes you from enjoying the third: 1) You can centralize ordering to a few suppliers; 2) You can order exactly the products you want; 3) You can order affordably.

If you attempt to centralize ordering, you can do so affordably, but will sacrifice getting the products you want. Or you can order exactly what you want, at a good price, but you’ll have to do so inefficiently—ordering from multiple suppliers through a variety of ordering channels. 

And say you managed to find a select few suppliers who had exactly what you want, your supplies costs are going to rise. Chaos.

Not to mention the inherent problem with relying on a select few suppliers for your products—it’s risky. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that it can actually be beneficial to order from MORE suppliers, not less. Doing so gives you three things: product flexibility, price-flexibility, and back-ups when an existing supplier is unable to deliver—something that’s STILL happening a year after the first shutdown.

Of course, ordering from more suppliers comes at an incredibly painful cost: our time and energy.

This is actually what prompted us to develop a sister product to Details Marketplace, tentatively called Details Ordering Concierge. The service allows practices to: order everything from one place, at their normal price (including discounts), and without changing any of their suppliers. 

Practices have been utilizing Concierge since January, and we’re thrilled with their results—some big announcements related to this coming soon. (And if you want a peek behind the curtain, just send an email to the address below with “I’m interested” and we’ll follow up.)

What sucks about purchasing is that there’s no one effective path to cut through the chaos. So…we just accept it. By understanding which of the three points of tension (supplier, product, or pricing preferences) you care about most, you can decide where you don’t mind making a sacrifice. 

Or, as orthodontists, we can buck business as usual and work together on solutions to modernize orthodontics. I know which I’m choosing! OP

Send us your thoughts and questions at [email protected] and we will answer them in a future column.

jeff biggs

Jeff Biggs, DDS, MS, is an ABO certified orthodontist with more than 20 years of experience. In addition to actively practicing in Indianapolis, Biggs is the CEO of Orthodontic Details Marketplace, and a sought-after advisor for other practices.