The Catch 22 of Hoarding In the Dental Office

Would you agree that we are all guilty of hoarding – a little? What would Sam’s Club be if not for the “Buy 100 rolls of paper towels to save 10 percent!”? I landed my own membership through Groupon (another one of those, “it’s on sale now so buy and stock up deals”). They offered a free, enough to feed twenty, cheesecake with the deal. I don’t even like cheesecake. It was free! Had to have it. Why do we have an innate need to hoard?

If you’ve ever watched the reality program “Hoarders”, you can understand why it’s subtitled “Buried Alive”. The individuals featured on this program have a serious problem. In an article “Treating People With Hoarding Disorder”, published by the American Psychological Association, Kirsten Weir writes, “hoarding disorder is marked by three major characteristics”. I’ll paraphrase. 1. You have a hard time getting rid of things. 2. You love getting new things. 3. Everything is disorganized. So, what does this topic have to do with dentistry?

The Hoarding Dilemma In Dental Practices

I started to think of reasons why most people tend to hoard. It could be the fear of missing out on the deal of the century or the fear of running out. Hoarding takes on a new meaning in a dental practice. No one wants to be in the middle of treatment and not have what they need in their room. It’s not their fault. Some dental equipment manufacturers make it easy to hoard because if there is a drawer, it must be filled with something. The catch is there can be too much, or too little, inventory in the operatories. At the end of the day, no real system even exists.

Every clinical staff member in your dental practice spends an average sixty minutes a day looking for things? Mind blown, right? How could this be? Here again, is another “catch”. You might think this blog is entirely about cotton rolls and anesthetic but it’s not. One of my biggest challenges when working with clinical staff is their emphatic need to store sterilized instruments in the operatory. Sounds good in theory – but it’s horrible in practice. While one is hunting down a C2 shade of composite, a hygienist is looking for an explorer because it is missing out of the pack. While it might seem (at first glance) reasonable to stock your operatories with a number of handpieces and cotton pliers, the problem ensues when they are used. Inevitably, handpieces are gone, cavitron tips are still waiting to get into the autoclave and there is an urgent cry for help!

The next Catch 22 is hide and seek. I have seen dental assistants stash handpieces away into places only they know about. Some of them even keep them in their pocket. Hygienists carrying the sharpest scalers in their purses. They do this fearing they won’t have the supplies and instruments they need. Hiding tools prevents others from accessing them. The result is poor utilization rates and perceived equipment shortages.

Take Baby Steps To Fix It



Let’s start with instruments. Try something for me. Get them out of your ops  and keep them in a central location (on the clean side of sterilization of course). Make sure they are organized by labeling a designated space for handpieces and instruments. Be specific. What good is a container labeled “loose instruments”? This ought to trim some of the hoarding fat. The only thing I want your practice to catch is 22 more patients who deserve care.

Hoarding in a dental practice is more of a cultural issue than a disorder. Either way, it is treatable. You need a professional who can help and that’s where I come in – literally! I’ll bring the cheesecake.

Author Angie Bachman