Going green with dental hygiene
Lottie Manahan shares with readers how she is combining her love for the planet with a proactive and practical effort to deliver greener dentistry.
For you, what does green/environmentally-friendly dentistry mean?
Dentistry is one of the worst culprits for harming the planet.
We get through so much plastic at work that we can’t recycle, not to mention all the aids we get patients to use – toothbrushes, for example.
I am passionate about the environment and doing all I can to protect our irreplaceable planet on a daily basis. It pains me to see the waste in dental practice; consumption has grown extraordinarily. So that means our recycling efforts need to grow, too.
Why is it important to you?
I love the planet; I love the outdoors and I love animals. When I was younger I grew up on a farm with dirt on my face, worms in my hands and even on rainy days I’d be outside.
Early on, I took a real interest in documentaries about our planet and it shocked – and still shocks me now – how we are constantly destroying it with our inexcusable consumer habits.
Rainforests that we literally need to survive are being chopped down at alarming rates. It makes me so angry that the average human can’t even recycle a bottle correctly. And even when we are, our councils aren’t recycling after collection or are shipping to countries that can, because the UK can’t.
Education and awareness are not widely available and this needs to change.
How have you incorporated this ethos into your everyday work?
I am conscious about everything I use at work, like I am at home. I fill my tray carefully with things I need. Rather than single-use items that get disposed of into landfill even without being picked up for use.
I spend a lot of time discussing ways to reduce waste with my team. We have clearly labelled and laminated information signs near bins so we are recycling everything we can.
Some people just don’t think of the impact we have on the planet and raising awareness helps to change this mentality.
Even thinking about my patients’ appointments, I try to marry them up with any other appointments they may need. This reduces their carbon footprint. People often don’t even consider this, but it’s really important. Especially patients travelling a considerable distance.
How do you square it with best practice? Have there been any challenges to overcome?
Working in a clinical environment with CQC regulations, it does restrict being green. Single use is the best/safest sometimes. I need not dwell on this and concentrate my energy on things I can change and adapt.
Another important factor I explain to patients who are eco-minded is that so-called ‘environmentally friendly’ oral health aids are not always actually eco.
There are tons of bamboo brushes that are impossible to recycle. Quite aside from their ineffectiveness in terms of plaque control.
What’s environmentally friendly about using a bamboo brush that leaves plaque behind, creating caries, which means their teeth ultimately need stuffing with plastic?
Then there’s the carbon footprint resulting from all those future appointments for their lifetime. There’s a lot more work that needs putting into eco-friendly oral health aids, in my opinion. But some have started and even offer recycling incentives. I really applaud these few companies.
What’s the newest green item you have introduced into your practice and why?
EMS has released a new aluminium Plus Powder reusable bottle. It contains the equivalent of four of the single-use plastic bottles.
The increase in size means less packaging and material. When empty, we can reuse the bottle as a drinking bottle or even give it to patients! I must say these bottles also look super fancy in my surgery.
The aluminium material of the bottle keeps the powder stable, protecting it from humidity, and eliminates the impact on the environment. It also has a biodegradable spout for a precise powder flow into the chamber, which refills without creating any waste.
The Plus Powder is an integral part of the guided biofilm therapy protocol (GBT). The level of care it allows you to offer your patients is astonishing. If something fabulous is available, like GBT and greener options, I want to offer it to my patients – they deserve it.
The painless technology was one of the main reasons why I embraced GBT. But here are lots of further benefits, including instant stain removal, the fact that it is non-abrasive, a disclosing element that shows patients the importance of a good clean so effectively, as well as oral hygiene instruction, patient education and motivation to maintain natural teeth and implants for as long as possible.
GBT ensures I have the time to achieve everything I want to in a hygiene appointment. All the while staying gentler on the patient and kinder to the environment.
What do your patients think about the changes you have made to offer greener dental care?
Most patients love it when I explain the measures or see for themselves what I am doing to be more environmentally friendly.
It makes them feel good that they’ve been part of eliminating waste; they feel like they’re giving back.
Patients also really value my honesty when they ask for advice on how they can contribute to less plastic use in their oral hygiene products.
I don’t actively recommend bamboo brushes to my patients, but for the patients passionate about making a difference I’ve done my homework. So I recommend the best of the bunch, trialing everything myself.
Do you think demand will grow for greener dentistry?
In recent years, media interest has grown, highlighting the effect we have on our environment, educating us that, once we destroy rainforests, humans can’t survive.
We are also seeing the harm we do to animals and the possibility of extinction; animal cruelty is a powerful tool to make us listen.
David Attenborough is worthy of our thanks for raising awareness. This raised awareness encourages people to research further how their lives are impacting the planet. They can see dental care is one of the worst culprits.
After COVID-19 hit and our standard operating procedures were amended accordingly, we all saw the orange clinical bags piling up within days.
This was not only expensive for practice owners, it also upset us to see the mass of waste and the impact that will have on our planet. The bags I saw piled up that upset me were from just one practice; there are approximately 12,000 dental practices in the UK, plus hospitals and doctor surgeries, both here and worldwide – just imagine it!
We need to be accountable for the waste we do produce. Even if you can’t change something due to CQC and patient safety, if you consider other options, that’s enough.
The items that we can reuse/autoclave need to be available and come with sensible price tags.
Do you think dental professionals have a responsibility to make reasonable changes to help improve our environment?
Everyone has a responsibility.
Just because you’re working in a practice that’s not your business, that doesn’t eliminate your responsibility.
I believe that every practice should have a nominated leader to educate and make changes and decisions for a greener business.
Even just asking staff to turn light switches off when leaving rooms, producing signs by recycling bins or calculating the waste produced each day and sharing with staff raises awareness, which is key.
For anyone starting out on the path to greener dentistry, what tips can you offer them?
I think the most important thing you need to know before making greener decisions is why we need to make these changes.
We destroy 80,000 acres of rainforest each day. Over one million marine animals die each year from plastic and climate change is melting glaciers.
Once the damage we are all contributing to is understood, we are much more likely to take responsibility for all waste. Be it personal or in the workplace.
GBT in eight simple, pain-free steps
GBT is a fast, efficient and comfortable way for dental professionals to work. We can divide it into eight simple steps:
- Assess – probe and screen every clinical case
- Disclose – make biofilm visible
- Motivate – raise awareness and teach
- Airflow – remove biofilm, stains and early calculus
- Perioflow – remove biofilm in >4 to 9 mm pockets
- ‘No pain’ Piezon – remove remaining calculus
- Check – make your patient smile
- Recall – a healthy patient equals a happy patient.
If you would like further details about what EMS Dental has to offer dental professionals in the UK, including its environmentally friendly Plus Powder reusable aluminium bottle, please visit www.ems-dental.com.