Unit 4: Administrative Operations
Administrative Operations

Section 6. Inventory Management

Purchasing and Stocking Supplies

Before beginning operations, the clinic will need to develop policies and procedures controlling the purchasing of all supplies (both dental supplies and office supplies) for the clinic. In most circumstances, the dental director or chief medical officer will delegate those staff members who have the authority to order and purchase supplies. Payment for such supplies are usually handled by personnel in the business office based on pre-determined budgets.

Policies and procedures should specify who on the staff will have access to the inventory and what protocols will be in place to deter misuse and theft. A dentist, dental hygienist, and/or dental assistant should have purchasing authority to maintain stock of dental materials and supplies. On the other hand, a clerk, office manager, receptionist, or other non-clinical person should be delegated to order the office and miscellaneous supplies. Limit the number of people who have access to the clinic's monetary resources, but maintain adequate ordering flexibility to ensure that supplies can be purchased during staff absences or turnover.

It is advisable to have a system to purchase, stock, and track supplies, including monitoring expiration dates. In addition, it is crucial to monitor all overhead expenses for a dental operation. Inventory control is one area that needs to be reviewed on a consistent basis for variances. If the clinic is purchasing some or all dental supplies from mail-order sources, logistical considerations are important. For example, many dental materials have a finite shelf life that must be taken into consideration. Personnel must be proficient in tracking the rate of use of these items to prevent running out of critical supplies and to ensure that the items do not get used past their expiration date. Therefore, inventory monitoring is essential. The lack of any critical supply can bring clinic operations to a halt. By setting clear inventory targets, one can establish a process that allows the practice to purchase supplies on a regular basis, avoid mistakes, and maintain expenses. Depending on practice volume and types of oral health services provided, it is recommended that total expenses for dental supplies (excluding office supplies) range between 6 percent and 12 percent of overall expenses for a dental operation. Exceeding this benchmark compromises the budget for the dental practice.

Furthermore, the geographic location of the clinic and environmental considerations may influence the timing of ordering for delivery. Some dental materials should not be exposed to either extremely hot or extremely cold temperatures. Local anesthetics, for example, should never be allowed to freeze while being shipped or stored. Freezing can weaken the seal of the rubber plunger in the carpule, allowing the introduction of air into the solution, which enhances the degradation of the anesthetic before its expiration date. Therefore, if your clinic is located in a cold climate, adequate supplies of local anesthetic should be purchased before the onset of freezing temperatures. Such considerations will ensure ample inventory of anesthetic throughout the winter months. Note that if this ordering cannot be done without risking expiration of the anesthetic, then a local vendor should be used for that material.

If the clinic is located in a region with other clinics, one might consider developing a cooperative purchasing agreement. Coordinated purchasing and the ability to buy large quantities in bulk may make it possible to obtain better prices. Volunteer dental clinics have discovered that having the clinic administrator or dental director attend state or regional dental meetings to meet with manufacturers and suppliers is one way to secure discounted prices and/or donations. Always let vendors know if your organization is a volunteer or nonprofit organization.


  • See Levin, R. 2004. Inventory control. Journal of the American Dental Association. 135(9): 1319–1320.