From major distributors to the dentist down the street, buyers should know what to ask when purchasing used equipment.
Dental equipment manufacturers and their distributor partners make it easy to select, buy and install everything needed to practice modern dentistry, from smaller pieces of equipment to expensive imaging machines. New equipment is fresh out of the box and still backed by the manufacturer’s warranty, and that guarantee is reflected in the premium price.
However, premium prices may pose a problem for practice owners. Many dental offices were forced to suspend elective procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the financial implications of these closures will undoubtedly be felt for some time.
While many dentists will cut back on big purchases, some may feel the need — or actually need — to acquire new equipment to stay competitive. One way to purchase equipment without paying new-equipment prices is to buy used. While buying used equipment may not be as simple as buying new, smart buying strategies can save dental practices a significant amount. But dentists may hesitate to take the leap because they have questions about the process. What types of equipment make sense to buy used? Which sellers are considered reputable? How do you know you are receiving quality equipment?
What to Purchase
Dental practices can purchase nearly everything they need for their offices used. “Any original high-quality dental equipment has the potential to be refurbished and resold, including chairs, delivery units, radiography machines, sterilization units, cabinets, lights, stools, handpieces and small equipment,” said Greg Brown, president of Dental Equipment Liquidators.
Buying used equipment can be an effective cost-saving measure for new dentists just starting their practices, established dentists looking to augment or upgrade existing equipment, and dentists looking to expand their practices with satellite offices.
Determining what you want to purchase used is a matter of personal preference. Some dentists want to spend extra time finding the best value in a used option. “If you are thrifty at home, I have found those same people are thrifty at their office. It really comes down to your personality,” said Matthew D. Giulianelli, DMD, FAGD, owner of Champlain Smile Solutions in South Burlington, Vermont, and an AGD Impact Testing the Tools columnist. “For me, if it’s going to be over $1,000, I am going to see if I can find an alternative that is the same value for a lower price.” He has saved a significant amount by buying an autoclave and rolling cart used.
“Used” can mean a few different types of equipment. Dyan Jayjack, senior manager of strategic initiatives at Henry Schein, breaks down equipment sold by the distributor into three main categories.
- Overstock. Overstocked equipment is essentially new and still in the box, but it may be older than the latest model. Manufacturers will sell equipment like this at a discounted price, usually 20%–35% off the retail price, through outlets like the Henry Schein Outlet Center.
- Demo. Dentists also have the option to purchase demo models, also referred to as open-box products. This kind of equipment hasn’t undergone heavy clinical use; rather, it has been lightly used on the tradeshow floor and is no longer in its original, sealed packaging.
- Refurbished. Refurbished or reconditioned refers to used equipment that has been restored to the manufacturer’s specifications. Prices for refurbished equipment can be 50%–80% below retail, according to Jayjack.
The age of used equipment should be a factor during the purchasing decision. Product lifecycles vary depending on the equipment and whether the features and technology are still relevant to the current standard of care. For example, older dental chairs can be purchased and still suit a modern practice.
“Throughout the years, dental chairs have remained basically the same with the exception of more add-ons, such as electric motors, chair programs, computer monitors, etc., but all of these features can be built into older chairs during the refurbishing process. Dentists do not have to sacrifice up-to-date technology when purchasing a used chair,” said Brown.
David A. Scardella, DMD, of the Center for Progressive Dentistry in Duxbury, Massachusetts, bought a refurbished Planmeca ProMax 3D Classic cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) machine. While considering his options, Scardella received a few different proposals. The price of a new machine would be approximately $94,000. He ultimately bought a refurbished machine through Henry Schein for $85,995, saving about $8,000.
“Since I bought my machine in 2015, the technology has improved, but not so drastically that my machine is outdated. In fact, it still has a very low emission of radiation,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll need to upgrade within the next few years.”
Where to Purchase
Once you know what type of equipment you want, the next step is finding where to buy it, and dentists have a number of options.
- Manufacturers and distributors. Manufacturers and their distribution partners sell a wide variety of used equipment that is still backed by rigorous testing standards and warranties. “If you have a really great relationship with your dental vendor — whether it’s Henry Schein, Patterson or Benco — a lot of times they will bend over backwards to find you a good deal and also good financing. I always start with them,” said Giulianelli.
- Resellers. A number of reputable companies resell used dental equipment. Some companies, like Dental Equipment Liquidators, sell a broad range of equipment, while others have a more specialized focus. Renew Digital focuses exclusively on extraoral digital imaging. Manufacturers and distributors sometimes work directly with these companies to help their customers trade in equipment and migrate to a new technology, according to Lyle Miller, co-founder of Renew Digital. “With extraoral imaging typically being the most expensive single item that a dental practitioner buys in their career, the ability to save 25%–50% and still get professional installation, training and support after the fact has made purchasing [used] equipment extremely attractive,” said Miller.
- Other dentists. Dentists may also find opportunities to buy used equipment from one another. “I make sure to always keep in touch with dentists in my area and check out their offices when they retire — if they don’t sell the practice to a new dentist,” said Ross Isbell, DMD, MBA, of Isbell Dental, Gadsden, Alabama, and an AGD Impact Testing the Tools columnist. Established, trusted relationships between dentists can also be a useful path to saving money on equipment. For example, Scardella sold unopened handpieces his practice did not need for a reduced price to a friend from dental school.
- Online. Sellers can use options like Facebook and eBay to sell dental equipment. It is possible to find great deals on quality equipment, but dentists likely need to exercise more caution when using this option. Like buying anything online, they must consider potential risks. “The look of counterfeit products is getting very deceptive,” said Jayjack. “You might not notice until you get under the hood, and you also risk purchasing a non-regulatory-compliant product.”
Dentists who decide to buy used equipment should consider their risk tolerance when researching different options. A manufacturer or reputable reseller will offer quality assurances, warranties and post-installation support that are likely not included with a purchase from another dentist or an online seller.
As far as which equipment to buy where, most dentists agree it usually makes sense to buy less expensive equipment from fellow dentists or online. Expensive equipment, like a CBCT machine, requires specialized shipping and installation. Even if both parties have the best intentions, issues can arise. “If it’s a $3,000-or-less purchase, that might be a risk I’m willing to take to get a better deal,” said Scardella.
Whenever you purchase a piece of equipment, you want to feel certain that you’re receiving something of quality. When buying new, the brand name and seller reputation is often a solid confirmation. But, when buying used, a little extra research is never a bad idea. Dentists can ask a number of questions to confirm quality, such as:
- Has the equipment been inspected? You will want confirmation that the product you are purchasing works as well as it should. Henry Schein Outlet Center uses International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification to ensure products are ready for sale. Renew Digital has a team of technicians conduct rigorous quality assurance on its products. Ask what the seller does to stand behind its products.
- Does the equipment come with a warranty? Once you’ve confirmed a product works, it’s important to understand what happens after the sale. Is the model actively supported by the manufacturer? Can you still get service and parts if something goes wrong? Is there any sort of warranty coverage? Will the seller provide post-installation support?
- How long has the equipment been in use? It’s important to know how old a product is and how long it has been in use. Was it lightly used — like a demo model — or was it heavily used in another dental practice?
- Why is the equipment being sold? This is a useful question for transactions with other dentists or online sellers.
- Can I have any references? A reference from another dentist can speak volumes. Ask the seller if you can talk to any other customers who have bought similar products to get a sense of what to expect.
Paying for used equipment is much the same as buying something new. Options include:
- Cash. If you’re purchasing a smaller, less expensive piece of equipment, it’s probably a fairly straightforward transaction that does not require outside support.
- Trade-ins. When working with a manufacturer or third-party company, it is possible to finance your purchase in part through a trade-in. For example, Henry Schein found a buyer for Scardella’s panoramic radiography machine when he decided to upgrade to a CBCT machine with dual 2D/3D capabilities. He was able to apply the $9,000 from the sale of that machine to the price of the refurbished CBCT machine he bought from Henry Schein.
- Third-party. For more expensive pieces of equipment, dental practices likely need to consider financing options. Major manufacturers can offer their own financing, and resellers like Renew Digital can recommend financing partners. Dentists can also explore small business loans through their banking partners. Scardella was able to get an attractive interest rate on his CBCT machine through a local bank.
Ultimately, the decision to buy new or used is up to each individual dentist. Reputable options and the potential for significant cost savings are available, and those potential cost savings may make buying used an attractive strategy to more dentists as they navigate the challenging and capital-constrained environment created by COVID-19.
“Most dentists are actively looking for ways to save money or to cut expenses as they budget their way back to business as usual,” said Brown. “During the 2008 recession and in the years following, we were fortunate to experience growth, both in total sales and number of customers served. As more and more dentists discover the benefits of budget-friendly, reliable, refurbished equipment, they spread the word, and our volume continues to increase. We anticipate this trend will continue for the foreseeable future.”
Carrie Pallardy is a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago. To comment on this article, email firstname.lastname@example.org.