The prevalence of counterfeit dental products, equipment and materials is growing more than ever. A few clicks of a mouse and anyone can get their hands on a legitimate-looking handpiece, curing light, or anything they wish for that matter, all for a fraction of the price. In fact, a quick search on eBay for ‘dental equipment’ brings up more than 32,000 results. How many of those are fake?
In this time of recession and cutbacks, it’s no surprise that dentists are increasingly tempted by those low prices, but is that money saving really worth it? I spoke to Simon Gambold, Managing Director of the dental division of Henry Schein UK, about exactly why it isn’t.
“At the moment we’re seeing the counterfeit market growing,” says Simon. “The BDIA has launched a campaign to make people aware of the dangers of counterfeit products. The MHRA have also written out to all dental teams about that.
“The products can look exactly the same with the same branding and marking on it, so unless you’re buying through a quality assured source you don’t know what you’re getting. As with all things in life the price is the obvious thing; if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
When buying products from a non-reputable source online, not only do you not know if they work, but the safety of the dental team and patient is compromised. But Simon says it’s the low prices that draw people in.
“The price difference can be big. Secondly, since the recession hit, dental teams have been under a lot of pressure – expenses have gone up, their earnings have gone down and they’re under the pressure to save money. And there’s greater availability of products online.
“We were just looking on the internet at an example of a dentist who’s written about a wax warming machine that he purchased that gave him an electric shock. Online he’s posted ‘what do I do next?’ and one response was ‘you should PAT test electrical devices before you use them’. I think that was a bit of an interesting response because if I buy a piece of equipment it wouldn’t occur to me to have it electrically checked before I use it.
“One of the things I want to do – and the BDIA has started to do a lot of work on this – is push the importance of quality assurance. We provide all those steps so our job is to source appropriately manufactured and tested products that are marked properly and handled properly right down the supply chain; whether that’s a medicine, a medical device, a product like whitening or an anaesthetic that has to be kept at a certain temperature.
“When we deliver it to the practice it’s compliant in terms of the whole supply chain. And there’s a price that comes with that. If a £300 hand piece is available for $50 on the internet there’s going to be a reason for that.”
The safest way of purchasing equipment is to buy from a reputable, quality assured supplier. Simon explains how Henry Schein ensures all of the products they sell are safe: “We have a supplier validation process. When we work with manufacturers we certify them first of all to make sure their manufacturing processes are compliant with regulations in the UK and Europe.
“We’ve got clinical and regulatory people on our team who visit manufacturers; we go out to the Far East and around the world. We audit what they’re doing and make sure all the products they’re making are compliant. Not infrequently we will get products brought to us that aren’t compliant in Europe and we’ll reject them. We’ll make sure those products are right and we’ll undertake due diligence on the manufacturer and we look at all the products in the supply chain. If we’re not buying directly from the manufacturer, we’ll make sure we’re buying from a quality assured distributor.
“Some years ago there was some counterfeit composite on the market in the UK and the MHRA went to all the dental dealers to look at the stock. We didn’t have any because that supplier isn’t one we buy from. I’m not saying it will never happen but the chances of it happening are very small.
“The recent scares with the breast implant material in France, for example, highlighted that even in a well-controlled supply chain you have to be careful that every link and step is followed. We aim to do that.”
When it comes to choosing a supplier to partner with, practices need to ensure what they’re buying is legitimate and of a high quality. But it’s not just about the products when it comes to Henry Schein, Simon says – they’re about the whole package.
“We provide a complete framework for the practice owner. Most dentists are trained to be clinicians and they end up running a small business, which they’re not trained to do. We provide the right infrastructure around them, and show them how to run their business.
“Dentists can come to us with an empty room and come back in three months and everything will be in there that they need to practise dentistry; the equipment, the computers, the medicines, the uniforms. We can even help them recruit the team, do the marketing, and get the patients through the door. They can then walk back in three months later and start practising.
“For example, our THRIVE business services programme will help organise their practice and improve productivity. It allows practices to manage all the patient records, ensure good chair utilisation to increase productivity, and reduce the number of patients who fail to attend.
“What comes with that is a competitive price on all your products and materials. We’re providing all of that, so when a principal is choosing a partner, obviously they’re going to want a good price on their gloves but there’s so much more they can get. We’re in this for the long term – we want to be in this business for another 80 years – so we want to partner with people who value that.
“The relationships between our field sales consultants and dental teams are really strong. We like to keep those relationships ongoing, and continue providing support for the teams.”
Not only that but Henry Schein believes in giving back to the industries and communities they serve, which they do through their corporate social responsibility programme, Henry Schein Cares.
“We’ve been in the business for more than 80 years and it’s right in our DNA to support our communities. We’ve always felt it’s important to support the communities we serve partly because we think it resonates with our customers who are healthcare professionals, but also we think it helps us as a business; our team members like being part of a company which supports its community. We do that in two ways – one is supporting dental teams that we work with and the projects that are important to them, and the other one is working in communities where we have facilities and recruit team members.
“In Gillingham in Kent, we’re building a new warehouse distribution centre that will open in September and we’re going to have more than 500 people working on that site. We also have a community-based programme there with a local school that’s in a deprived community. We are working with thw Outward Bound Trust that takes the kids away for a weekend in Wales. They, hopefully, have an experience of a lifetime which really engages them and is proven to support their learning as they progress in their schooling.
“Each of our facilities around the country has a local charity they support that the team members choose. We’ll help them promote that but really it’s up to them to organise it.
“We’ve got a programme called Henry’s Angels where some team members came to the company and asked if we can donate some time to support local charities. One day a quarter we do a project and the team members put a lot of their time into it as well. It may be refurbishing a charity shop, it could be decorating a disabled child’s bedroom – we do a whole host of different things.
“We’ve just done the MoonWalk and had 45 plus team members involved. They were team marshalls along the course and they did that over the weekend but a lot of work went into that beforehand and they loved it. They came back really energised and motivated and I think they do a better job for the company and we provide a better service as a result. It’s a win-win all round.
“Our professional based projects on the other hand are where we partner with dental teams and do what they want. Part of our ethos is to support care to under-served communities around the world – we have programmes in Africa, the Far East and the UK. It’s important for me to look at our community, because although we live in a very affluent society there are pockets of deprivation where there is bad oral care. We go into those communities and find practices that want to donate their time and then we do programmes with them. In Sheerness, for example, we work with dentist Sharon Biant who runs an NHS practice there and our Helping Kids Smile programme with her.
“We’ve been running that programme in a local primary school for a year now, and we do education, tooth brushing and dental assessments with them. Sharon and her team love it because they’re doing more work in the community and the school are getting a programme that used to be provided on the NHS but with the recession and cutbacks the community nurse doesn’t visit anymore. We work with Colgate to donate the materials, and we run that programme in a number of places around the UK. Particularly as dental budgets moves to local authorities it’s really important that the profile of oral health stays up there and doesn’t slip down the priority list.”
It’s fitting that their corporate social responsibility is called Henry Schein Cares; from ensuring practices are equipped with quality assured products, to supporting their dental teams and the wider community, it seems as though Henry Schein does just that.