Counterfeits: is your GDC registration worth losing for a ‘bargain’?

With costs higher than ever, some deals are too good to be true. Edmund Proffitt warns of the dangers of counterfeits and low-quality equipment.

Finding ways to save money and keep costs down is on most dental business owners’ minds in 2023. Business owners have felt the squeeze. There have been unprecedented rises in the cost of energy and goods associated with running a business. For example, the cost increases of purchasing essential equipment due to rising inflation.

Saving money is important to everyone. Business owners and patients alike are keeping a close eye on their pennies.

There are plenty of ways businesses can help with keeping costs down and saving money. For example, shopping around for business energy prices and using comparison websites to ensure you are getting the best deal. Additionally, making sure you are using energy efficient lighting in your practice. These are just some easy wins when it comes to saving your business some money.

You could also shop around when it comes to purchasing the equipment and essentials that keep your dental business running. Ensure you get more than one quote and see what special offers and discounts suppliers are offering.

‘Risky situations’

One thing you don’t want to do when it comes to saving money, however, is favour a cheap bargain from an unreputable source over a genuine product from a reputable seller. This can lead to risky situations for both you and your patients.

Most of us buy online almost daily now – from the weekly grocery shop to major purchases like holidays and cars. There are, indeed, great deals to be had. But the internet has also opened the floodgates to a problem that is growing in all sectors, including dentistry: the sale of counterfeits and sub-standard or stolen goods. These are often virtually impossible to differentiate from the genuine product. They are at best illegal and at worst downright dangerous.

The most common cheap copies tend to be disposable items. But higher value products – such as handpieces, curing lights and even x-ray equipment, mostly made in China – are widely counterfeited and sold through sites such as Ali Baba, Amazon and eBay. They are finding their way into dental practices around the UK.

The fakes are growing in sophistication. They appear to have CE marks, bar codes, serial numbers and holographic labels – all counterfeit. Even the accompanying documentation is expertly forged to be indistinguishable to the untrained eye.

Complaints about counterfeits

A growing number of products which turn out to be copies are being sent to dental equipment manufacturers with complaints about their performance or quality. Authentic items such as handpieces, which are especially widely counterfeited, are high-quality instruments developed by specialist manufacturers for professionals to use. The named brands are continually investing in research and development to ensure that they bring you innovations in handpieces so you can achieve the best treatment results safely – and this is reflected in the prices.

Cheaper, lower-quality copies can be bought online, but where quality is an issue, is it really worth staking a professional reputation for a price deal? The power and speed of a dental handpiece means it is critical that it is produced using high-quality materials and to a consistently high standard for durability and longevity. Otherwise, you risk compromising the safety of your team and your patients.

How to spot counterfeits

Sonia Tracey, managing director of handpiece manufacturer W&H, said: ‘We use serial numbers and unique data matrix coding on each item, so can trace our products. Dentists knowingly using illegal, non-compliant products risk both their patients’ safety and their own professional registration.’

Managing director of NSK United Kingdom Ltd, Alex Breitenbach, agrees: ‘Where you buy from, and the price that is charged, should be your first clue it may be a fake,’ he said. ‘Once the product is in your hand it’s already too late to wonder whether it’s not what it seems.’

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has seized many thousands of items since turning its attention to dental equipment. MHRA colleagues have seen some shocking examples of items that not only break down almost immediately, but also are liable to disintegrate in the patient’s mouth. As well as a batch of x-ray equipment that used cheap kitchen foil instead of lead to block radiation.

However, the counterfeiters are growing increasingly clever and sophisticated. MHRA colleagues tell us: ‘Recognising a fake just by looking at it is very hard. The time to suspect that an item is counterfeit or substandard is before you even purchase it. Check the chain of supply and look at where the product has come from. Websites can look very convincing, but major manufacturers do not sell their products on eBay. Caveat emptor is entirely applicable here.’

The General Dental Council reinforces this advice. It urges all registrants to ‘carry out appropriate checks to ensure the products they are purchasing, or commissioning are legitimate’.

Fighting back

The problem of counterfeiting has become so rife that the British Dental Industry Association (BDIA) launched its Counterfeit and Sub-standard Instruments and Devices Initiative (CSIDI) several years ago to fight it. Its aim is to protect its members, the profession and the general public. There is more information on the BDIA website, and suspicious activity can be reported here.

The key is to get to know your suppliers. BDIA members adhere to a strict code of practice, which can give dentists the confidence that the products they buy are of guaranteed quality and provenance.

The bottom line is to buy from reputable suppliers and know where your product is coming from. It is not worth risking your patients’ or staff’s safety – or your professional registration. Remember the adage: if the price is too good to be true – it probably is.

Find a BDIA supplier here.

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