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  • by: Scott Drucker, DMD, MS
  • 6 min read

Finding PPE for Dental Practices

Dental offices around the United States are learning how to care for patients in the age of COVID-19. Safety remains the priority as states begin to allow practices to treat patients again, but it may be a challenge to get the necessary personal protection equipment (PPE).


Scott Drucker, DMD, is a periodontist and co-founder of Chicago-based dental supply company Supply Clinic. He told Patient Prism CEO Amol Nirgudkar that it could be a while before the availability of PPE returns to anything resembling normal. Demand still far outweighs supply.

“We're trying to make everything available that we possibly can and adding as products run out,” Dr. Drucker said. “What is most important for dental practices is just getting the proper protective equipment to be able to see their patients. I foresee a few months more of challenge procuring some of these products.”


The PPE Supply Chain Broke

Masks remain the most elusive type of equipment, Dr. Drucker said.

“The supply chain, in general, was most broken with masks,” he said. “And it continues to be.”

Dr. Drucker said the issue has been complicated because of inconsistent guidelines from the CDC, the FDA and the ADA. In general, N95 masks are considered the standard for healthcare workers.

One problem, according to Dr. Drucker, is that a main U-S manufacturer of N95 masks, 3M, has had much of its supply funneled to government agencies. This has created a bottleneck for DSOs and private dentists.

“N95s are extremely difficult to source right now,” Dr. Drucker said. “3M is shipping everything to hospitals and to governments, per FEMA’s directive. So, those aren't on the market. There are some foreign-manufactured N95s that do come in little spurts, and we try to get those on the site (for order) when possible.”

It’s not just a mask shortage. PPE is now being used by everyone in the office, including reception staff, and the increase demand has contributed to prices spiking by about 400%. For example, a box of 100 nitrile gloves cost between $5 and $6 in February, before the pandemic reached the U.S. in large numbers.

Now, that same box costs between $15 and $25.

A box of 50 surgical masks jumped in price from $4 - $6 to anywhere from $30 - $50, Dr. Drucker said.

Another issue Dr. Drucker has seen is order maximums. Because of the shortages, manufacturers are limiting the number of cases or boxes organizations can order. In addition, manufacturers are facing workflow issues because they have been working with smaller factory crews because of social distancing and illness.

And delivery services have begun policies of only attempting delivery one time. If an office is closed and no one is available to sign for the delivery, the order is being returned to the sender.


PPE Procurement Recommendations

Dr. Drucker cautioned against taking procurement shortcuts by purchasing from potentially disreputable suppliers. Counterfeit PPE has begun to surge across the country. One way to combat the possibility of getting faulty equipment is to build a reliable network of suppliers – even if you already have one supplier who you know and trust.

Another reason to build a trusted network of suppliers is that many have initiated maximum order numbers for products to combat hoarding and to guard against selling out too quickly.

“Now, I think, is the first time a number of practitioners have seen maximum quantity restrictions,” Dr. Drucker said. “This is extremely common practice now across the board for distributors. And part of the reason for my recommendation to kind of expand out your network of sellers are max quantities.”

The bottom line, Dr. Drucker said, is to keep your options open when it comes to acquiring PPE.

“Check out every option available,” he said. “Purchase where you can, because the supply chain is going to be inconsistent  and lead times are way longer than dentists are used to seeing.”


Additional Resources

For more interviews with experts, training resources, and guides, visit Academy.PatientPrism.com.

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