Before too long, sustainability will be widely embraced by the dental profession, predict Giles and Leslie Edwards.
Please introduce yourself
My name is Giles and with my wife Leslie we have invented Friendly Floss, a sustainable stainless-steel dental flossing tool. Our aim is to replace single use plastic floss picks with a far more sustainable and kinder option. For each person who uses Friendly Floss, that could be 1000 plastic floss picks saved over three years.
My passion is trying to stop the damage being done to the planet and its wildlife by our reliance on single use products. We would like society to move from a ‘make many times, use once’ philosophy to a ‘make once, use many times’.
Why a dental product?
I cycle to most places and wherever I go, I find plastic floss picks littering streets and parks. Floss picks can be obscenely harmful to birds and animals, not to mention the oceans, which is where many end up.
Years ago I saw a pigeon being strangled by a plastic bag. I managed to free the bird and watch it fly off. This prompted me to start caring about my plastic use.
A few years later we watched David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II and saw how albatross chicks were being fed pieces of plastic that their parents had fished from the sea. When the regurgitated plastic got stuck in the chicks’ bodies, it caused a painful death. As things currently stand, good oral hygiene relies on too much plastic and particularly single use plastic. Sad events in nature and Blue Planet II inspired us to find a solution.
Since launching we have found there are many like-minded consumers who are moving away from convenience without consequence to really thinking about their impact and how small tasks, like flossing, can become a feel-good zero impact experience.
Why is sustainability such a talking point in dentistry?
Sustainability is a talking point everywhere and dentistry isn’t an exception. In 2015, the United Nations set out 17 interlinked Sustainable Development Goals.
Health and dental bodies have also risen to the challenge. The FDI World Dental Federation has published a consensus statement on environmentally sustainable oral healthcare and discusses ‘reduce, reuse, recycle and rethink.’
In 2020, NHS England committed to a programme to achieve net zero status by 2040 while Public Health England and the Centre for sustainable healthcare have produced a report on carbon modelling within dentistry. For too long, there have been time-wasting debates about whether climate change is a reality.
We now have to contend with the undeniable impact humankind has on the planet. Beyond climate, because dental appointments involve single use plastics, it’s inevitable that thought leaders, organisations and suppliers will be looking at ways to minimise their use.
Can a practice really be clinically sustainable/eco friendly?
I am not qualified to make this judgement as I am not a dentist. However, from all that I hear, organisations and thought leaders in the dental world believe that it is entirely possible for dental practices to take a more sustainable approach.
I am impressed that there are already programmes to make it easier for dentists to consider their environmental impact and to help them reduce their carbon impact. The latest on the scene is the Greener Dentistry accreditation scheme from the eco dentist, Davinder Raju, while CSR coach Mark Topley provides a free crash course for dentists. The FDI World Dental Federation has recently published a toolkit.
There are also dental suppliers who are supplying green products and new oral hygiene products coming onto the market too, such as Suri, the electric toothbrush, Parla, Wakencare and of course Friendly Floss, all of which have excellent green credentials. Friendly Floss fits particularly well with four of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals:
3: Good Health and Well-Being
12: Responsible Consumption and Production
14: Life below Water
15: Life on Land.
Is a fall in profits inevitable if sustainability is put first?
Thought leaders in dentistry say that while an eco approach to business is more costly currently, this will change as demand from the profession for greener solutions grows. There is a strong case for being in the vanguard and attracting patients who will appreciate a dentist who cares about the environment.
It’s an excellent way of building your reputation and if you spend marginally more on products, you will most likely spend less on marketing as well as recruitment and retention. There is a strong case for arguing that although the costs might be higher upfront, in the longer term these will be offset by the reputational benefits.
What needs to change for dentistry – both the profession and industry – to align with sustainable values?
I think we are already seeing that change; the pressure for reform is both top down and bottom up. ESG, the environmental, social and governance movement, is already being embraced by the bigger dental suppliers like Henry Schein, a global leader in medical and dental supplies, which has launched a PracticeGreen initiative. Meanwhile UK company Kent Express stands out for the lead it has taken in this field.
I suspect that sustainability will be a regulatory requirement before long and this will have a major impact on both the profession and industry. Meanwhile, patients who care about the environment will be voting with their feet.
How are you living your life sustainably?
I am a keen cyclist so avoid using a car whenever I can. As you would expect, I limit my use of plastic. So many products are made of plastic but we make sure that where possible anything we have bought can be recycled or reused – for instance giving our children’s toys to charity shops as they out-grow them.
We take any used plastic bags which can’t go in household recycling to the supermarket for recycling there. And returning to the topic of my biggest bugbear, I stop and pick up the plastic floss picks I find scattered on the ground when I am cycling to work.
I also photograph them at the point I pick them up. They are a constant reminder of why friendly floss exists and why its success is so important to us.
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