To buy or not to buy?

Editor's note: Sheri Doniger's column, Dental Diaries, appears regularly on the advice and opinion page, Second Opinion.

The end of this interesting year is finally upon us. It has been a time that tried the patience of dentists and patients alike. Not to mention dental manufacturers and distributors. Long gone are the days of stocking up on supplies. But what to do about end-of-year deductions?

Yes: Section 179 of the federal tax code. Simply put, if you are making a profit, you are allowed to purchase certain equipment or items and accelerate the depreciation. So -- is it time for that Cerec or E4D? How about a digital radiograph system? On the flip side, if you are operating at a loss, you may be able to defer expenses for capital improvements to 2010.

So, to buy or not to buy?

I have noticed more manufacturers trying to get our attention as the year winds down, with online ads promoting good deals on new and current products. They are really trying to remind us that we need their restorative/bonding agent/curing light, etc. In addition, I have been receiving both emails and snail mail brochures about getting the tax deduction we are entitled to receive. I have seen many "sale extended" notices as well. It seems as if dental companies are trying to lure us back into our "stocking up" habits.

I understand. Truly, I do. Just as we dentists are feeling the pinch of this economy, so are the dental manufacturers. It is definitely trickle-down economics in its most basic form. If we aren't using as much, we aren't buying as much, which means they don't sell as much and don't need to stock as much. (Although I assume most companies were expecting a slow year and tightened up their own processes.)

Because many of us are expecting equipment prices to fall even further, we are waiting for that "best buy," that dental "Black Friday." I don't know what the "best buy" might be for my office, but I do know I will be making some end-of-year purchases, although not as many as in past years.

When it comes to the business of dentistry, it has been an interesting year. Patient flow has been steady, but not overwhelming. Patients still need their preventive, restorative, and periodontal procedures, and we still need our consumables (neck napkins, prophy paste, composites, impression materials, plastics, etc.). We still need to have the appropriate materials available for the appropriate procedure. But will we order in excess this year to ensure a larger business deduction on our taxes? I think possibly not.

When dentists purchase products, we are always looking to the future. This is a portion of our decision. If the future holds opportunity, we should consider the equipment investment for the future with the current year's tax benefit. On the other hand, tax rates may be changing, with the deduction potentially worth more in the future.

Looking ahead, I do believe 2010 will be better. Unemployment seems to be stabilizing and potentially decreasing. With more folks employed, more patients will come in for dental care. I am confident that the next decade may begin slowly but will surge to great heights. And who knows: by the end of 2010, we may be buying in excess in anticipation of a better 2011. I, for one, am looking forward to that prospect.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Sheri Doniger, D.D.S., practices clinical dentistry in Lincolnwood, IL. She has served as an educator in dental and dental hygiene programs, has been a consultant for a major dental benefit company, and has written for several dental publications. Most recently, she was the editor of Woman Dentist Journal and Woman Dentist eJournal. You can reach her at [email protected].

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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