What are "Gray Market" materials? They are materials that are illegally imported, counterfeit or altered in some way. The most common materials include Zirconia, Ceramic Materials, Composites and Glass Ionomers. The quality of these materials may be compromised because they are pat their expiration date, were stored improperly or handled poorly in the shipping process.
Understandably, in these economic times, dental practice owners are looking for ways to cut costs and reduce overhead. One of the things that we see happening more and more is that practices are buying products on the "Gray Market" because they are advertised at 10-50% off in some of the journals or websites.
You know the saying..."if it seems too good to be true, it probably is!" That definitely applies here. Gray market materials are usually sold at a very low price, come from an unknown distributor, and come in suspicious packaging; they are usually close to or past the expiration date or the product may have been discontinued by the manufacturer leaving you with no guarantee or warranty. You may also notice some subtle differences in packaging such as; foreign packaging, color, text size or font and spelling errors. And you don't have the relationship with the vendor to tell you if there was a product recall.
Now, let's take a look at how involved doctors are with inventory control. Many times, the doctors aren't even aware that they are using "Gray Market" materials. Who is in charge of inventory control? Is there a system and budget in place? Many times, the employee(s) in charge of inventory control are given a number as a guide to stay within and they "shop around" for the lowest price, not taking into consideration the quality or shelf life of the material. The employee thinks that they are doing something great for the practice by saving money, but in reality, it's actually costing the practice much more.
The amount of time it takes the employee to "shop around" usually negates the savings. Sometimes, the use of "Gray Market" materials is not called into question until the patient or patients have to keep coming back due to sensitivity or their restoration falling out. Clearly, you would not want to compromise your patient's health because of this. You will need to train your team on this and I recommend that on a regular basis, the doctor and employee(s) in charge of inventory control meet to determine the budget, brands and quantity of materials they want to purchase and from who they will be purchasing from.
If you are aware that you are using "Gray Market" materials, then you seriously need to reconsider. Remember, the dental industry is regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to make sure that products used and placed in patient's mouths meet accepted standards. "Counterfeit materials that haven't gone through the proper protocols and testing could fail in the mouth, resulting in cracks or leaching of material in a patient's mouth", says Bennett Napier, co-executive director of the National Association of Dental Laboratories (NADL).
Keep in mind, dental practices aren't the only ones purchasing "Gray Market" materials, dental laboratories are purchasing them too! We have seen many dentists having to redo crowns because of the porcelain chipping all too often these days. If you are noticing this happen, you will want to call into question the type of material being used and the integrity of the lab.
Yes, buying genuine materials may increase your supply cost initially, but long term it will save you time and the trouble associated with re-treatment or legal action.
As Chris Holde, President of Heraeus Kulzer, LLC said, "If a product is not managed through the appropriate channels it can potentially be sitting in a warehouse somewhere for years and then sold to a dentist at an extremely deep discount. As a dentist, you really don't know what you are getting or what you are placing in a patient's mouth."
If you have questions about the products you've purchased or the company in which they were purchased from you should either do some investigating of that company or contact your supply vendor. Dental manufacturers are taking steps to prevent counterfeit products and action is being taken to eliminate these companies from the market.