Too good to be true: Why gray market isn’t worth the money you save

We’ve all been there. We see a crazy deal on the latest and greatest something (purse, watch, laptop—you name it) and are tempted. Tempted to roll the dice and buy even though something just doesn’t seem right.

But, fortunately, most of us resist that temptation. We know that the product might be used, damaged, or not even the product that’s advertised. We save up and bide our time until we can make the smart, rational purchasing decision.

So why should dental supplies be any different? Or, a better question, shouldn’t buying dental supplies come with even more caution and forethought to what the actual product will be?

The common sense answer is yes. But with every business, including dental practices, the desire to cut costs can sometimes undermine even the best of intentions and turn purchasers to the gray market to find the best price.

But here’s why that needs to stop.

Gray market products are dental products not sold through manufacturer approved supply chains. This means the product can be mislabeled, past its expiration date, handled and stored incorrectly, or a much lower quality than advertised because there is nothing making sure it’s not. Once a product has left a secure supply chain it’s nearly impossible to accurately know everything about the product you need to to ensure it is safe for your patients.

At first it may seem worth the risk. Perhaps your first gray market purchase turned out fine. But there is no guarantee it will again. Instead you may purchase a composite and use it to complete a restoration on a new patient, only to have the restoration crack a few months later. Then what are you left with? An angry and disappointed patient who will either come back and require you to perform the procedure again (negating any cost savings the first time around) or who will find another dentist to go to, meaning you lose out on any future revenue that patient would have produced.

And a cracked restoration could very well not be the worst of what could go wrong with gray market products. If there is enough evidence that an office knowingly used gray market products on a patient and patient safety or procedure efficacy was negatively affected, that office could face legal consequences that can permanently damage their reputation.

How to ensure you don’t accidentally “go gray”

At the end of the day, most dental professionals want to do what’s best and safest for their patients and will do their best to stay away from the gray market. But, unfortunately, it’s not always obvious what is or isn’t gray. Lower than normal prices aren’t always a dead give-away, so it’s best to know the proper way to vetting products for their supply chain authenticity.

Luckily, all it generally takes is a check with the product manufacturer to see if they’ve authorized the distributor you’re working with to sell their products. Often manufacturers will list their authorized dealers on their website (like 3M does here). Or you can call the manufacturer, and they will be more than happy to let you know if the supplier is legitimate or not.