I learned tonight about a trend in dentistry that I find very disturbing. I had no idea that gray marketing and counterfeiting existed in dentistry, much less that they are major issues. In truth I had to look up the term “Gray Market” on the internet to see exactly what it meant. Gray markets are marketing and distribution channels that are unofficial and not approved of by the manufacturer. Counterfeit products are close approximations, replicas of the real product, packaged to look as though it is coming from the manufacturer. My research revealed that an estimated 5-8% of products purchased are gray market or counterfeit.
Gray Market and counterfeit products pose a host of issues both for the dentists who buy these products and for their patients. Products being sold on the gray market are appealing because they are most often sold at a steep discount. This price cut comes at a cost, often these products are expired or nearly so or they have been stored or handled improperly. This can alter the handling properties of the materials and can result in material failures and post operative consequences to the patient. Other materials are counterfeit, close replicas of the real brand. The science closely, but not exactly copies the formula for popular products. These counterfeits are not tested, and not approved for sale or use, and can expose the dentist to liability when purchased and used for patient care.
The problem is growing from what I have researched, and therefore a growing concern for our profession. Customer service centers of the major manufacturers receive more and more calls from dentists who believe they are using the real deal, and having challenges with the product, just to find out that it is a gray market or counterfeit material. After learning this I went to Ebay, and sure enough I searched on “dental composite” and up came thirteen pages of entries, crossing all of the major brands. The price was definitely better then anything I could get from a dental distributor, but are the unknown costs, since there is no way to ascertain the source or quality of what I would be buying.
So I guess the old saying Caveat Emptor, “let the buyer beware” applies to dental materials. There are some very simple steps to avoiding having these risky materials in your office. Make sure that you order name brand products from known, licensed dental distributors, and make sure if someone else in your office does the ordering they do this as well.