Purchasing power: Survey pinpoints trends in the dental market, and dental hygienists are buying

Amelia DeStefano analyzes a survey about the purchasing power of dental hygienists.

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By Amelia Williamson DeStefano, MA

Even if dental hygienists are not the primary purchasers of equipment or supplies in their practices, they still offer a great deal of input, particularly in some of the most obvious components of the dental hygiene appointment.

There are several ways that hygienists can influence the purchase of equipment. Of course, they can purchase the equipment themselves. They may be in a practice where they make the decision about what is purchased, but someone else does the ordering, or they may have varying degrees of input into the decision.

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The majority of the 1,610 respondents to an RDH magazine survey, most of whom practiced in a single office for 30-40 hours a week, had at least some influence of the purchase of a product for the practice. Table 1 shows the top 15 products that hygienists influenced either by purchasing directly, making the decision of what to purchase, or having at least some input in the final decision. Eighty-three percent of our respondents had such an influence in the purchase of hand instruments. Of these, most made the final decision without purchasing directly (46%). This list is largely composed of items that are essential to the practice of hygiene (e.g., prophy paste and angles, fluoride varnish) but that have been traditionally purchased by practices for the hygienist's use. Dental hygienists are often involved with the decision making for personal protective equipment and infection control items in their operatories, even though they do not directly purchase them. Among these items, face masks and gloves tend to be the product categories where hygineists will make the decision on what will be purchased.

Some products, such as digital radiography, piezo scaling systems, and oral cancer detection devices, are not purchased annually, but the survey pointed to an interest in offering recommendations to employers.

Table 2 shows the equipment that hygienists most often made the final decision on, but someone else purchased. Its contents are similar to Table 2, showing that hygienists tend to influence the purchase of the same items, regardless of if they are making the final decision or not.

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The key product categories where hygienists often made the decision on which products would be purchased are densentizing products, fluoride varnishes, hand instruments, prophy angles, prophy paste, and ultrasonic inserts.

Direct equipment purchasing

By far, magnification eyewear and loupes were the items hygienists were mostly likely to have purchased directly in 2015 (Table 3). Eye protection was the next most common category at 20%. Subsequent categories were purchased very infrequently. Some of these are durable items (e.g., operator's stools), which would not need repurchasing each year. Twenty-six percent directly purchased magnification eyewear or loupes in 2015.

Income tax deductions

We asked our survey respondents, "Are you aware of income tax deductions for the purchase of your own equipment?" Generally, the answer was yes, with 63% responding that they were aware. Those over 40 were moderately more aware of this deduction opportunity than their younger colleagues.

Income tax deductions related to the purchase of equipment were a small part of total deductions among our respondents (Table 4). The most popular category was state licensing fees, with only 12% using these deductions for equipment purchases.

Interestingly, those who were aware of equipment deductions appeared to be more likely to purchase their own equipment, and to directly or indirectly influence purchases in the practice. For example, of those who responded yes, 36% had purchased magnification eyewear or loupes themselves, while only 22% of those who responded no had. This trend extended even to products the hygienists did not purchase directly, such as hand instruments and prophy paste. Of those who responded yes, 84% had influenced the purchase of hand instruments in some way; 80% of those who responded no had. Prophy paste decisions broke down at 77% and 72%, respectively.

Those who were aware of equipment deductions were also more likely to have traveled outside their home towns to earn CE or review product exhibits, and were (unsurprisingly) more likely to have purchased equipment for their own use for greater portions of their careers.

Conclusion

While dental hygienists are increasingly purchasing their own equipment, many remain unaware of potential tax benefits that could make such purchases more affordable. Those who work in the profession of dental hygiene are prone to work-related injuries that can be extremely painful and end careers. Equipment such as loupes and operator's stools can keep hygienists comfortable and healthy throughout their working lives. The topic of hygienists purchasing their own equipment, supplies, or both, remains a controversial one in the professional community. However, purchasing their own equipment gives hygienists the ability to modify their work environments should their employers be ignorant of (or simply apathetic about) the danger work-related injuries pose to their personal health and careers.

In our survey, it also appears that hygienists who are more "connected" to their professional communities-those who attend professional meetings outside their home towns, for example-are more aware of the tax benefits of purchasing equipment. They also appear to exert more purchasing influence in their own practices. While we can't extrapolate on the meaning or cause of this connection, it appears to support the conventional wisdom that hygienists can empower themselves to have greater impact in their workplaces and personal careers about that which they are most passionate. RDH


Amelia Williamson DeStefano, MA, is an associate editor for RDH and Dental Economics magazines, as well as for PennWell's dental digital media products.

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