BY ANNE NUGENT GUIGNON, RDH, MPH
Over the past decade, it has become more and more common for dental hygienists to purchase equipment and supplies for their clinical practice settings. Traditionally, dental offices supplied all our workplace needs. Some think it is just plain silly for a hygienist to make purchases, but a growing number of practitioners are selecting and buying their own equipment. Manufacturers and dental supply companies are taking notice of this shift.
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In the early 1980s I started buying my own equipment – a habit that many thought was strange. My original purchases were small, focused on a few new hand instruments here and there, designs that my dentist was unwilling to purchase. When the practice act in Texas changed, allowing dental hygienists to place sealants, I wanted to learn how. My employer did not support the idea, so asking for financial support for the course was out of the question, but I drove to San Antonio and took the course anyway. In retrospect, these two actions seem both meager and bold at the same time, but taking care of myself and investing in my career made perfect sense to me.
More hygienists want to own their equipment for an increasing number of reasons that include working as a temporary employee, being employed in several practices, seeking consistency in performing tasks, having equipment that supports workplace safety, and working with higher-quality equipment. Hygienists who practice in states that allow more autonomy, or who have the ability to practice outside the four walls of a traditional dental office, often own their own equipment, purchasing supplies that support these alternative settings.
It became abundantly clear that owning my own equipment was the path to freedom and provided control over the destiny of my career. The biggest issue was how to pay for everything. Through the years I’ve become an unofficial expert at creative financing for dental hygienists. Cash is the most fiscally-responsible approach, and you can use savings specifically ear-marked for equipment. However, cash is not always available at the right time and it may not be the best choice.
Years ago, banks and credit unions would have been a great source, but not in today’s world. Financial institutions would hold the purchased item, such as a car, as collateral against loan repayment. Quite honestly, I can’t imagine a banker wanting to hold the paper on an ultrasonic scaler — much less try to figure out how to repossess one – should the loan go into default. Credit cards are today’s currency for small, short-term personal business loans.
Before discussing other options, it is important to understand that there are two ways companies sell in dentistry. Some companies are structured to sell directly to hygienists. Often, companies that sell loupes and headlights are set up like this. Other companies, such as those that sell commodities such as gloves or hand instruments, rely on national, local, and regional dealers to handle sales. Within the dental dealer arena, there are companies that will do business with a hygienist that uses a credit card for the sale. Others feel that opening an account for a dental hygienist is not cost effective because our purchasing habits are sporadic and limited.
A growing number of hygienists want to buy products without having to go through a dentist. Consider using a regional dealer if a national company does not want to sell products directly to you. Smaller dental dealers often have more flexible policies. Companies that sell direct often have interest-free payment plans for larger purchases, spreading the financial impact over a period of time. These plans require a down payment with a credit card, followed by a series of auto-payments.
Another way to use a credit card involves getting a card that is interest free for a period of time. This was the strategy that I used to purchase a high-end ultrasonic scaler when I decided to join the ranks of dental hygienists doing temporary assignments. Over the years, a manually-tuned magnetostrictive ultrasonic scaler became my power scaler of choice. It was unlikely that I would find one in offices where I worked as a temporary hygienist, so I bought my own. The trick is to pay the card off after the teaser period, before interest charges kick in. Consider cancelling the card as soon as there is no balance to avoid a costly surprise.
Friends, family, and employers can be another resource. If you choose that route, treat the loan as a business agreement. A casual handshake is not appropriate. Put the terms in writing and calculate the appropriate interest rate using the IRS Applicable Federal Rates, a monthly publication available online. Some dentists offer to make the initial purchase and then make deductions from the employee’s wages over time, essentially reselling the item to the employee. This type of payroll deduction should be taken out after all taxes are calculated. As the final purchaser, the employee is entitled to claim the tax deduction. Consult your accountant for specific advice on any financial transaction.
Making an investment in your future can be scary and rock your comfort zone, but protecting yourself and your career by purchasing your own equipment is one of the most comforting and satisfying actions you can take to ensure that your career is under your control. RDH
ANNE NUGENT GUIGNON, RDH, MPH, provides popular programs, including topics on biofilms, power driven scaling, ergonomics, hypersensitivity, and remineralization. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award and the 2009 ADHA Irene Newman Award, Anne has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston since 1971, and can be reached at [email protected] or (832) 971-4540.
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