Simon says: let’s prioritise sustainability in dentistry

It’s time for us to think in more depth about sustainability and how we can make dentistry better for our patients and the planet, argues Simon Chard.

It’s time for us to think in more depth about sustainability and how we can make dentistry better for our patients and the planet, argues Simon Chard.

Eco-conscious dentistry isn’t a new concept. Indeed, in the years preceding the pandemic, the spotlight on sustainability was fierce. Many of us were considering ways to improve the eco-credentials of our practices.

Now, in the post-Covid arena, it’s time again for us to think in more depth about how we can make dentistry better for our patients and the planet. Green business practices are once again a huge focus, and these conversations are starting to become more involved, especially as we consider the crises of climate change and the ongoing plastic problem.

Shocking statistics

Dental practices and oral health products have a significant impact on our natural world. For instance, when was the last time you took a look at your practice’s energy consumption or its carbon footprint? 

Energy consumption will differ depending on factors such as size, patient footfall and the types of technologies being used. However, there are always ways that we can make our work more sustainable.

While solid figures are difficult to find for dentistry as a whole, research suggests that the carbon footprint of NHS dental services in England is 675 kilotonnes carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) (Duane et al, 2017). This figure takes into account not only the CO2 produced, but also other greenhouse gases that are damaging to our health and atmosphere.

The materials used in dentistry are also highly detrimental to our planet. Think about the number of single-use plastics we use in practice. Understandably, our choice to use these items is often influenced by the need to remain compliant with infection control measures. However, we do need to think about the lasting impact our work has. 

Oral health products in general aren’t exempt from this. For example, did you know that every year, 1.5 billion toothpaste tubes are discarded in landfill, with many of these items finding their way into our oceans? 

What’s particularly worrying about this is that each one of these toothpaste tubes will outlast us all, with the British Dental Journal reporting that a normal toothpaste tube takes 500 years to fully biodegrade.

Eco-friendly measures we can take

Sustainability takes work to achieve, especially in the current climate where it still isn’t the mainstream approach. However, there are so many things that every clinician can do to help improve the environmental impact of their practice.

For instance, consider installing a bike rack outside your practice so that people can cycle to work or appointments. Can your staff car share into work? You could even look at teledentistry and see if there is a way to perform patient appointments over video (depending on the purpose of the appointment). 

These ideas will instantly cut down the emissions generated just through travel, which can quickly make a huge difference.

Another area to explore is examining the products and instruments we use in practice more closely. Cutting down single-use waste is a top priority, so what about looking at the available multi-use solutions on the market? Stocking and product rotation are also essential – there’s no better example of how wasteful dentistry can be than throwing away full tubes of composite that have never been used because they’re out of date.

Look at the green credentials of manufacturers you work with and consider aspects such as whether they use recyclable packaging.

Achieving sustainability can take many forms, and it’s vital we think widely and do everything we can.

Sustainability in the BACD

One of my core goals as president of the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (BACD) is to ensure that greener dentistry remains at the forefront of what we do. 

I want to open conversations about sustainability and ensure that members are considering the benefits that this will bring – being eco-conscious isn’t only great for the planet, it also proves to patients that we’re taking steps to be as ethical as possible.

In addition, I want to try and make BACD conferences more sustainable. For instance, at most shows, people just throw the lanyards away. I want to make a closed loop and ensure that lanyards are returned at the end of the day so that they can be reused. This may not sound like a huge change, but the amount of waste it saves is significant. These are the changes we should all be making!

Embrace sustainability in every area

Ultimately, we’re only given one planet, and protecting it should be at the top of everyone’s priority list. Becoming more sustainable in dentistry isn’t necessarily simple. 

We, of course, have to remain compliant and consider what products and tools support the best outcomes. However, there are measures that every single member of the dental team can make to ensure that we’re improving our sustainability – actions that eventually will help this approach become more mainstream and support the ongoing efforts to protect our world. 

Ideas to improve your practice’s environmental impact

  • Install a bike rack outside your practice
  • Set up a car share for staff
  • Consider teledentistry – is there a way to perform patient appointments over video, depending on the purpose of the appointment?
  • Cut down on single-use waste: look at multi-use solutions
  • Evaluate your stock and product rotation processes
  • Look at the green credentials of manufacturers – do they use recyclable packaging, for example?

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