The green hygienist – five things practices can do to make a sustainable change

The green hygienistLottie Manahan reveals her top five tips for embracing the green lifestyle and making your dental practice more sustainable.

A lot of practice owners fear a greener practice comes with a price tag. This can discourage them from even trying to make small changes within their business. There is a lot to overcome and it can often feel daunting as they don’t know where to even start. But it’s important to remember lots of small changes actually do make a big difference.

While dentistry isn’t the only industry to blame for climate change, I do strongly believe as dental professionals we must accept and act on an ethical responsibility towards our profession’s contribution to climate change. Let’s lead the way for a greener future.

Here are five ways your practice can grow greener:

The commute

A study conducted in Scotland has found that patient and staff travel to and from dental offices account for 45.1% of carbon dioxide emissions used per annum/per dental practice. This is huge – almost half of the problem is the travel. But this is also encouraging as there are lots of ways we can make a real difference here.

Could we treatment plan differently to reduce the number of visits needed? Can we marry up appointments more efficiently? For example, dental examinations and hygienist on the same date? It could also be expanding the roles in your practice so clinicians are competent at offering a wider variety of treatments when others may not be available on the same date.

Encouraging families to come together using one mode of transport and even looking at intervals between appointments, are recalls set correctly, has the NICE guidance considered? Obviously patients choice needs to be considered and prevention is important to prevent even more visits so this needs to be carefully calculated.

Staff travel is more tricky as dental professionals are required in clinic to work unlike some industries which allow working from home. Encouraging cycling to work by installing bike racks, providing safe helmets and advertising cycle schemes to your staff are a good start. Those who can should enjoy the health benefits of walking. Those driving should share vehicles when living close to one another.

Our practice has recently started exploring the idea of four day weeks which will cut down a full day commute from each member each week. That’s around 52 less commutes a year.

Promote a paperless office

Using dental programmes on a practice network is the easiest way to promote a paperless practice. This saves time and money and also increases efficiency. Online medical histories, Covid-19 protocols and consent forms are something your patients will really appreciate. This is due to the ease of filling them out at home, with the added benefit to the planet. In fact a study by Manifest found only 13% of people prefer physical forms. So let’s give the patients and the planet what they want.

Digital X-rays are excellent quality, reduce radiation exposure and remove all the chemicals and wasteful materials needed to develop. In my opinion digital radiographs should be mandatory for ethical and greener reasons. Over the last couple of years scanners have been the best way to record teeth impressions for accuracy, time, as well as patient and clinician comfort.

However I can’t help but think about how much less waste is created in contrast to alginate and putty impressions. For example delivering materials, the high recurrent need for re-imps, patients travelling back, the impression material itself and the plastic trays waste. Not to mention the transportation of them to the lab of choice, which are sometimes in different countries. I hope those reading this with scanners pat yourselves on the back for investing.

BYOB – bring your own bottle

Every staff member should be encouraged to bring in a personalised bottle for them to top up and reuse daily. It has the added important benefit of staying hydrated.

In my opinion dental practices should consider purchasing for every member. They make great gifts too! Those who use EMS equipment can use the aluminium bottles they provide their powder in together with a labelled name. My team all have them. The reduction in plastic bottles wasted within the team would be a huge green improvement. It would mean fewer glasses and cups being used, less dishwasher use and less plastic waste that often doesn’t get recycled even when we try!

Nominate a green team

If your practice doesn’t have an explicitly eco-friendly mission, it’s likely up to individual employees. They need to encourage sustainable purchasing and system implementation in the practice. As the saying goes, there’s strength in numbers! Round up your eco-minded colleagues within the team and set up a sustainability task force.

Together you can brainstorm creative ways to propose your ideas to the team, as well as putting systems in place to measure and monitor how the initiatives are impacting the practice. We often have first aid nominated members, head nurses and radiation officers. Now it’s time to nominate a green member to encourage, educate and make differences within the practice.

These team members can then make things easier for the whole team. For example labelling recycling areas clearly, purchasing items that are easily recycled or reused, turning lights off and pulling plugs on items not in use.

Invest in a ‘oral care and packaging zero waste box’ in your practice

Terracycle work very hard to improve the worlds recycling efforts which are far from in place. You can now purchase boxes to have in your practice for all the team and patients to use to dispose of their toothpastes, brushes and floss packets sustainably.

Terracycle have partnered to create a national recycling program for all oral brands of used or empty oral care products and packaging. You can also recycle from home by joining the Terracycle program and downloading a free shipping label, or search the map to find a convenient local recycling centre.

I have also seen Invisalign recycle points for old aligners to be recycled in boxes provided to dental practices. Shouldn’t this be a standard procedure going forward?

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