The Eco Dentist – ‘dentistry is unsustainable’

The Eco DentistThis month, Davinder Raju suggests simple ways practices, and more importantly their teams, can change the status quo.

As a member of the dental profession, I believe we are intelligent and talented members of society. We are proficient at assessing risk and then prepared to take the necessary steps to ensure we provide appropriate patient-focused care in a safe environment for our patients and teams.

I also believe that we are aware that human behaviour is responsible for almost all environmental problems as individuals.

So, when we’re in our domestic surroundings, we recognise the risks of climate change, plastics pollution, etc. And so we try to reduce our impacts by choosing to engage in more sustainable practices.

Yet, despite the growing awareness of sustainable dentistry, why do many in our profession adopt a different mindset and behaviour? Why engage in unsustainable practices when they return to our work environments?

Dentistry is unsustainable

Now, some of the reasons why we may not embrace sustainability include:

  1. The whole area of sustainable dentistry is overwhelming and confusing. It leaves some discouraged and frozen
  2. Many in our profession have become accustomed to and accept that delivering oral healthcare has adverse side effects on the environment
  3. Placing too much emphasis on profit and not enough focus on the health of our planet.

And unfortunately, the more dental practices who choose to do nothing about sustainability, the more it increases the perception that doing ‘nothing’ is acceptable. That doing nothing is the social norm.

Yet, we all know that businesses need to reduce their environmental impacts. That includes our dental practices.

Currently, dentistry is unsustainable, and so we need to be extra critical about our behaviours at work.

‘It’s not easy being green’

Let’s try to remove the cognitive dissonance and drop the conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes that we have in the workplace.

Instead, let’s go out of our way to behave sustainably and motivate our teams to do the same.

And although Kermit the Frog stated: ‘It’s not easy being green’, I’d like to think we’re a little more intelligent than a muppet.

Additionally, as we’re key members of society, we need to adapt and make sustainable behaviour the norm to experience a different mindset.

Changing to proactive green behaviours

Personal behaviour change isn’t always easy. But the good news is that we humans can change any of our behaviours with some degree of sustained effort.

According to behavioural psychologist, Sean Young, if we want to master the process of changing our behaviour for the long term (towards sustainability), we need to adopt the following strategies.

Bite-size chunks

Break down your dental practice’s sustainability vision into goals. Then break those goals down into smaller achievable steps.

The more straightforward and smaller the steps, the better. Green Dentistry’s online platform does just this for you.

Community

Reach out and connect with other dental professionals and organisations who are embracing sustainable dentistry and who can support your practice’s transition to sustainable oral healthcare.

We’re growing in numbers, so reach out and become a member of Green Dentistry.

Your why

Have a very strong ‘why’ you want to become more environmentally sustainable.

For example, delivering oral healthcare has a significant environmental impact and is currently unsustainable; this is a strong enough ‘why’ we should all embrace sustainability. But that’s my opinion.

Start by integrating environmental concerns into your dental practice’s vision or mission statement.

Having a vision or mission that incorporates sustainability is an easy means of encouraging you (and your team) to behave pro-environmentally.

Easy

Make embracing sustainability easier in your practice. Have policies that make pro-sustainable choices the default, and pick the low hanging fruit first to get some momentum going on your greener pathway.

For example, at my practice, we fitted multiple bike racks. That way patients would have less resistance to cycling (otherwise, they would have to think about where they could secure their bikes during their appointment).

Neurohacks

Most people think they need to change their mindset to change their behaviours. But social psychologists now know that our minds will follow if we change our actions.

Use new pro-sustainability behavioural measures to make your brain think you’re the kind of healthcare practitioner who sees the environment as a key stakeholder in your practice.

To flip this on its head, by conducting green behavioural actions at work, some of my team have disclosed that they have become greener at home.

So how do I engage my team to think and act sustainably?

In my practice, I have a designated sustainability champ. I chose her because her values and beliefs in caring for the environment mirrored mine.

She shared my vision for delivering sustainable dentistry. She educates the team on what and where the practice’s environmental impacts are. Additionally, she trains them on sustainable practices. They are encouraged to think about how they can further improve our dental practice’s green credentials.

Together we have created a culture where proactive green behaviour is the social norm within our practice.

This has created cohesiveness and one in which completing green behavioural actions makes team members feel good.

Environmental-related matters are discussed at every monthly practice meeting. And, by default, they’re always allocated as the first point of discussion.

At these meetings, we focus on improvement. Not trying to attain perfection, because we know small changes do add up.

Small changes do add up

The cumulative effects of what we each do adds up.

If we maintain the status quo, our cumulative effects will continue damaging the environment.

As a profession, we could work together and embrace sustainability so that our cumulative effect no longer harms the planet.

By joining like-minded dentists such as members of Green Dentistry, we can take steps to address our environmental impacts and together help break the current social norms of inaction.


If you need some help, you could always check out www.greendentistry.co.uk. This is an online platform that breaks down sustainable dentistry into bite-size chunks.

Catch previous Eco Dentist columns

Follow Dentistry.co.uk on Instagram to keep up with all the latest dental news and trends.

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