Davinder Raju starts his new column as The Eco Dentist and asks whether you’re considering how you run your dental practice.
Have you watched Simon Sinek’s timeless TED Talk: ‘Start with why – how great leaders inspire action’?
It’s a great talk about knowing the big ‘why’ behind the big decisions you make. For example why you studied dentistry as an undergraduate, why you chose to specialise or why you chose to open your own dental practice.
And, perhaps the answer to your big ‘why’ is that you wanted to offer your patients the very best cosmetic treatment or periodontal care.
Of course, we all have different whys, but a strong ‘why’ puts the emotional drive into whatever you’re striving for.
And, then, with a team that supports your ‘why’, your patients now grin like Cheshire cats after receiving that excellent care you and your team undertook. And that’s great as you feel an immense satisfaction; your ‘why’ is rewarding you in dividends.
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How do you run your business?
As well as an excellent chairside manner and expertise, you require products to help you provide that service.
But do you know where the products come from? Do you know whose hands what you’ve bought has passed through? Do you know what natural resources are required to make the products and how they are sourced? And after you finish with the materials and consumables, how are they processed by you. Then, who comes to collect them?
This is the ‘how’ part of how you choose to run your business. It’s often overlooked, but arguably is just as important as the ‘why’.
And, this is where sustainability comes in.
Sustainability or sustainable development is famously defined as: ‘Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ by Gro Harlem Brundtland. He presided over an investigation into why economic development at the cost of ecological health and social equity didn’t seem to lead to long-lasting prosperity.
Creating a sustainable practice
Essentially, a sustainable practice seeks to balance social, environmental, and economic goals.
So you might say to balance people, planet, and profit. And this definition is a very mainstream view on sustainability.
We work and deliver our service in the ‘real’ world. We depend on goods and services to help improve the quality of our patient’s oral health.
So, we need to acknowledge potential trade-offs between meeting the different sustainability goals. Take, for example, single-use plastics that we use for infection prevention. We want to protect our patients, but at the same time, we are aware that we can’t recycle single-use items.
And, even if incinerated (rather than going to landfill) to generate electricity, toxic compounds and greenhouse gases are emitted.
There’s no right or wrong here if we make decisions with awareness. It’s about conscious choices and trade-offs and trying to work out what’s best in the interests of your patient and the environment, and the financial security of your business.
It’s about understanding the connections between planet, people and profit. And that we need to ensure that our business activity doesn’t deplete or damage the biosphere beyond its ability to regenerate/replenish itself. Nor exploit human capital or damage communities to secure financial growth.
Making the journey
There is a small but growing movement within the profession trying to work out how we can mitigate our impacts on the environment and remain prosperous.
It isn’t always easy. So, we as dental practice owners need to have clear ethics and visibility.
Be open to yourself, your teams and your patients about what you are doing and what you can’t presently do. But also explain what you aim to do in the future to help secure environmental sustainability.
Additionally, the dental industry needs to be transparent about its supply chains and environmental policies. That way we can make informed decisions about our purchases.
All stakeholders involved in delivering oral healthcare need to adapt to the increasing realisation of the impacts of dentistry. We need to remain symbiotic and supportive of each other and ultimately help each other flourish.
After all, we’re all part of a dental ecosystem, nestled in a bigger ecosystem, the environment. And right now, as we’re finding our way, it’s not about being perfect. It’s about being on the journey.
So, if you’re a practice owner, put away your loupes and microscopes. Step back and take a more holistic view of how you are currently delivering your patient care.
If you’re not already weaving sustainability right into the heart of your business model, I’d urge you to do so.
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