Eco-dentistry, also known as ‘green dentistry’ is an environmentally-friendly approach of practicing dentistry while still following the standards and principles of the industry. There are various ways in which dental practices can go green to reduce waste and decrease the amount of pollution that is emitted and preserve energy.
According to a recent report from Public Health England looking into the carbon footprint of NHS dental services in England and Wales between 2013-2014, dental examinations contributes the highest proportion (27.1%) to the overall carbon footprint, followed by scale and polish with 13.4%, amalgam and composite fillings with 9.7% and 9.5% respectively. Acrylic dentures constitute 8.6% and radiographs 6.4%; extractions contribute 3.5%, nonprecious metal crowns 3.3%, fluoride varnish 2.9%, endodontic treatment 2.1%, and 1.5% with glass ionomer fillings. Precious metal crowns, metal dentures, fissure sealants and porcelain crowns contribute less than 1% to the carbon dioxide equivalents of dental procedures.
The analysis of the carbon footprint has identified travel – both patient and staff travel - as the main source of carbon emissions by NHS dental services as a whole and for the majority of dental procedures. For resource intensive treatments procurement is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
Most dentists already plan treatment to reduce the number of visits needed and further implementation of NICE guidance on the interval between courses of treatment might help (while being considerate of patient choice.)
To start engaging with and improve the sustainability in their practice, Public Health England suggests that, amongst other measures, dental health professionals can implement the Green Impact Programme of the National Student Union (NSU), an engagement tool for dentists on how to include sustainability in their work. In 2013, the University of Bristol’s Dental Postgraduate Department, who had taken part in the University’s Green Impact programme for several years, developed a dentistry specific toolkit as an Excellence Project. The programme then separated from the University and was available to dentists across the south-west of the UK. This innovative scheme was incredibly successful, attracting around 60 dental practices per year and lots of very positive feedback for 3 years. Dental practices taking part not only saw energy, carbon and financial savings, but were also able to gain extra points on applications to hire trainees by demonstrating their sustainability work. Their patients also benefited by improved cycle facilities, information about public transport and reduced usage of mercury in dental products such as fillings.
Dental Susnet also brings together staff, patients and others from dentistry to share ideas and resources for the transformation to a truly sustainable health service, particularly for amalgam and dental restorative materials.
In 2008, the Eco-Dentistry Association (EDA) was establied in the US, co-founded by Dr. Fred Pockrass and his wife, Ina Pockrass. The EDA aims to encourage practices to make their environment more environmentally friendly and has published case studies on practical and easy alternatives which would reduce the environmental footprint of a dental office were it to follow the “green” recommendations. It offers some examples of how eco-dentistry can be achieved in your practice:
1. Conserve water
Dental surgeries waste tonnes of water every single year, mostly by leaving taps running to clean tools. A simple way to stop water waste would be to install motion sensors so the water runs from the tap only when signalled.
There are a large proportion of items that can be recycled within a dental surgery, including old magazines from the waiting room, used plastic cups and disposable bibs. In place of disposable bibs; an alternative would be cotton towels or wraps which can be sterilized and re-used. Not only will this contribute positively to waste management, but it should also cut down costs.
3. Dealing with hazardous substances
Materials used in dental surgeries can be extremely harmful to the environment and should be disposed of with caution. For example, amalgam is of great risk to pregnant women and their unborn child. Nearly 4 tonnes of mercury are dumped into the sewage networks each year, which is later converted into toxic methylmercury.
4. Eco-friendly sterilization
Other toxic substances can be severely reduced in the office by using eco-friendly sterilization, which involves non-toxic infection control and steaming rather than the use of chemical-based procedures.
5. Go paperless
One of the easiest ways of cutting down on waste would be transitioning your dental practice to go completely digital. By using digital radiography, practices can keep all patient files in one location.
Making these changes to ensure your dental practice becomes eco-friendly won’t occur overnight but adapting the way your institution is run in minor steps could be the best decision you ever make for allowing your business to progress.
Public Health England (2018) Carbon Modelling within Dentistry. Towards a Sustainable Future. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/724777/Carbon_modelling_within_dentistry.pdf
Green Impact: https://sustainability.unioncloud.org/