by Edwina Wood

How to stop runaway expenses

Overhead. It always steals more than its fair share. You want to buy quality products; your patients deserve nothing but the best. But how can you make sure you are getting the best possible price for the items you purchase? By asking the right questions, watching every product that you buy, and always knowing your inventory, you can be sure that you are spending money wisely.

Ask the Right Questions

  • “Does your company charge for shipping and handling?” Some companies offer free shipping and handling. If you are being charged these fees on plaster and stone, checking and asking around could save you some money.
  • “Am I being charged sales tax?” If you are ordering from a company out of state, you should not be paying sales tax.
  • “Does your company give quantity discounts?” It may be beneficial to order a 2 or 3 months’ supply of items you know will be used.
  • “Where is the price break?” One company gives a 50% discount if a large order is placed quarterly.
  • “What incentives does your company offer?” Several orthodontic companies will offer a 50% savings on support items if you order their bands and brackets.
Edwina Wood

Another company offers a 5% discount if you leave a credit card number on file so that the order is paid on the order date—and a 5% annual discount from this company adds up!

  • “Do you give a price break if I commit to an autoshipment?” Sometimes, if you sign up for autoshipment, you can get a better deal. Know your inventory and how much stock you use so that you don’t overload.

Also, make sure to ask your sales representative about discounts, since he or she has more opportunities to help you than the operator you talk to when you call the company directly. How do you know what they will do for you if you don’t ask?

Another tip is to save orders for meetings and shows. Show specials will be a better deal than the regular price.

Watch Every Product That You Buy

Compare prices for every item that you purchase. Watch flyers and catalogs that come in the mail.

It’s also smart to let the staff know the cost of every item so that they will conserve and protect office stock. If they know the cost of a bracket, when they drop one, they will be motivated to find the lost one rather than get a new one.How much is sealant? Should I fill my well full or go drop-by-drop? How much will be saved if I use one pair of gloves per patient instead of three or four? Let everyone know the value of office products.

It’s also useful to ask yourself every once in a while: Is this product really necessary? Are there newer products that are better and more cost effective? Can I replace it with a new and improved, better product at a better price? On the other hand, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Your tried-and-true equipment may not need to be replaced by the next best model.

Know Your Inventory

Take biweekly inventory for ordering purposes. A quick inventory of what you have in the office will let you know what you need. Only order what you need.

For one month of the year, do not order stock. Use up any old inventory that needs to be used. If you could choose a new syringe of bonding material or one that is almost empty that you would have to squeeze and work to get the remaining material out of, which one would you choose? By holding inventory for a period of time, you will make sure all your products are being fully depleted.

Also, evaluate how your satellite offices are stocked. Each of our out-of-town offices has a laminated inventory sheet. Every workday in the satellite office, the sheet is marked with what stock is needed. We restock and take items each trip. We only stock enough for 2 working days.

Be certain to return for credit unused stock that is no longer used in your office. Some companies will accept unopened returns for up to 12 months. If that doesn’t work, eBay your unused items! Everyone has a cabinet of unused items. Turn it into cash.

Other Cost-Effective Ideas

  • Sell your used brackets and bands to a recycling company or scrap metal company.
  • Install programmable thermostats in your office. Why pay to heat and cool your office after working hours?
  • Turn off lights, copiers, and computers when the day is finished.
  • Don’t use a new bracket for every loose bond. Microetch and rebond when a patient has a loose bracket.
  • Use digital photos to save the cost of film and processing.
  • Collect air miles. Use a credit card with rewards to pay for inventory. Pay it off each month—or if you need to carry a balance, negotiate a low interest rate.
  • Design and print your own postcards, letterhead, birthday cards, and recall cards. Check the previous year’s cost for buying these items and reevaluate what you are spending.
  • Use discount cards from local office suppliers.
  • Shop at local warehouse discount stores.
  • Use rechargeable batteries.
  • Have a staff member in charge of archwires. Sterilize and restock wires that are pulled but not used.
  • Use e-mail to communicate with your patients. You can send a monthly tip for patients or a quarterly newsletter. There is no printing cost, you don’t have to buy paper, and the postage is free.
  • Resell unworn scrubs and uniforms. Uniform stores sometimes have a resale consignment area, and scrubs are very popular. Put the money into a new uniform fund.
  • Make it a team project! Have your staff brainstorm about saving the practice money. Maybe have staff incentives if a goal is reached?

Are you wise when you buy supplies? Start asking the right questions when you buy, watch every product that you purchase, and always know the inventory of every product in your office. By following these easy steps, you can develop a cost-effective plan to keep your overhead under control.

Edwina Wood has been in orthodontics for the past 24 years. She started as a treatment assistant, spent 2 years as a lab technician, and has been a treatment coordinator for Harwell and Harwell Orthodontics for the past 10 years. She can be reached at