The manufacturing of counterfeit, imitation products has long been a problem in the consumer goods sector—and is becoming increasingly troublesome in the dental industry. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), counterfeit goods account for 5-9% of all global trade, representing $450 billion. Over 70% of counterfeit products seized by U.S. Customs come from China. Counterfeiting costs manufacturers significant revenue and puts thousands of jobs at risk.

But what does it all mean for dentists? Every dental practice around the world has two principal objectives: to comply with the Hippocratic Oath and to operate profitably and efficiently. As such, it is only understandable that practices would seek to keep costs to a minimum when purchasing dental products. This is why many practices are now turning to wholesale and discount platforms such as Amazon and eBay, where they hope to find the same products at lower prices.

Financial and Medical Risks of Purchasing Counterfeit Goods

The difficulties of regulating online marketplaces mean that buyers often run the risk of purchasing counterfeit and potentially hazardous products. Dentists, in particular, face many potential dangers. If they use seemingly less expensive, yet lower quality products, such as disposable gloves, surgical sponges or mixing tips, there is a greater likelihood of failure, and any cost savings soon disappear. In many cases, products show defects before they have even been used; however, some defects cannot be seen when buying online:

  • Gloves are too thin, or have holes
  • Mixing tips are incompatible with their cartridges
  • Surgical sponges are not sterile due to defective packaging

Patient health can also be jeopardized through their use; gloves can tear in the patient’s mouth, mixing tips can break off from cartridges when cements are applied in the mouth, and surgical sponge strings can come loose during removal from the patient’s mouth. Actively jeopardizing patient health can have serious repercussions for practices. Should any cases of this kind become public, they will have a major impact on the dentist’s reputation.

Risks and Side Effects of Counterfeit Goods

Simply purchasing counterfeit goods in the U.S. can cause liability. U.S. Customs regularly seizes shipments of counterfeit dental products, and the importer faces destruction of the goods and/or fine and penalty.

Even if legal proceedings are not taken against the dentist or practice, there is still a very real chance that use of counterfeit products will harm their image and reputation. Today, rating sites and social media platforms make it very easy for patients to share negative feedback with a wide audience.

According to a survey by the marketing specialists 1-800-Dentist, online ratings play an increasingly important role in the public’s choice of dentists. While three years ago, 53% of patients claimed they were influenced by online assessments, that figure has now grown to more than 70%. Ratings from other patients are considered just as important as evidence of the dental practitioner’s technical expertise. As such, it is more important than ever that dentists build up a solid reputation online—and work to actively maintain it.

How to Differentiate Between Counterfeit and Original Products

With a little online research and by heeding just a few tips, dentists can effectively protect themselves against counterfeiters. Many manufacturers, such as the Swiss dental firm Sulzer Mixpac, incorporate visible hallmarks into their trademarked products. Examples include seals, colors, and protected, easily recognizable shapes.

To ensure the purchase of high quality and trademarked products, dentists should order them via specialized dental trade, avoid discount online platforms, and be especially suspicious of discount products made in China. By learning just a few of these clear identifiers, dentists and their buyers can help secure their livelihood, their business and—most importantly—their patients’ health.

 For more information about the company's products and services, visit