Step into dentistry’s sustainable future

Step into dentistry’s sustainable future

We all have a part to play in protecting our planet and adapting to sustainable practices can have hidden benefits, but where do you start? Patrick Ward investigates.

How much do you know about sustainable (or green) dentistry? Perhaps it is a concept you, your practice or your group are already exploring but are unsure where to begin. Perhaps it sounds like more confusing buzzwords you have little experience of. Or perhaps you already embrace sustainable dentistry but want to stay ahead of the curve.

Sustainable dentistry is, at its core, a means to provide an excellent standard of care not just to your patients but to the world in which they live too. The relationships between health and the state of the natural world – including climate change and harmful emissions – are long-established.

The benefits of taking sustainability seriously can also be seen at a more immediate level, as one in three UK consumers say they have stopped purchasing certain brands and products due to concerns over sustainability and ethics (Deloitte, 2023). This can help your services to stand out in an increasingly competitive market, allowing you to attract new patients as well as the best talent for your workforce.

This brief introduction should help you get a better understanding of the concept and its myriad benefits to you, your patients and the planet.

Rethink your relationship with nature

At the core of sustainable dentistry are the four Rs:

  1. Rethink
  2. Reduce
  3. Reuse
  4. Recycle.

We want to be rethinking our relationship with the wider environment while reducing the quantity of resources we use in the process from packaging to electricity. We should consider reusing equipment and recycling whatever we have discarded in the process.

It can also mean proactively boosting the environment, with some surgeries even planting trees to absorb carbon dioxide while encouraging biodiversity.

Many practices are now aiming to become carbon neutral or net zero, which involves cutting back on emissions while taking action to remove the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they create.

Reading all of this, it might seem that taking the leap into sustainable dentistry will be time-consuming, costly and perhaps even impractical. However, there are steps everyone can take that can make a big difference.


The most environmentally damaging aspect of dentistry is travel, which includes patients travelling to the practice and staff commutes and work-related travel. Together, this makes up around 64% of dentistry’s carbon footprint (Public Health England, 2018).

The impact of travel can be mitigated in several ways. Cycle-to-work schemes can cut harmful car emissions, as can locating practices in areas with good public transport links and encouraging staff to walk to work. Some practices have installed electric car charging points.

Using new technology to perform remote diagnoses also cuts the need for travel, while things like performing multiple treatments in single appointments and promoting family check-ups can help to avoid repeat journeys. Encouraging patient self-care can also mean fewer trips to the practice.


Procurement makes up around 19% of dentistry’s carbon footprint, and there are plenty of ways to help cut this back. A good place to begin is researching suppliers known for their ethical and environmental credentials, ideally those closer to your practices to save on unnecessary travel.

When drawing up a list of preferred suppliers, in addition to prices, think about whether they offer things like recycled products as standard, and if they have corporate social responsibility accreditations.

Gas and electricity

Recent world events have shown how unstable gas and electricity prices can be – and even when they are at their lowest, it is still a major expense. So, cutting down on how much gas and electricity you use is as good for your bank balance as it is for the environment.

Things to consider here might be switching to lower energy LED lights, installing insulation and using energy-saving devices.

Other areas

There are plenty of other ways you can adapt your practice to become more sustainable. For example, you can join a recycling programme so that patients can bring in things like their used toothbrushes and floss containers. You could become a paperless office or even cut back on your use of nitrous oxide (which alone contributes around 0.9% towards dentistry’s carbon footprint).

As more practices move towards sustainable dentistry, expect regular innovations in the industry. Keeping up to date with these advances is key to staying ahead of the game.

It won’t cost the earth

Creating a sustainable practice will likely require investment, depending on how far you would like to go. Procurement of environmentally friendly equipment or even climate-consciously redesigning your clinic might cost more, but there are savings to be made in areas such as reduced energy and water usage, lower transport costs and hopefully increased patient numbers.

Think of it as future-proofing your practice. Demand for climate-conscious services is only set to grow as the climate crisis intensifies and public awareness increases. This in turn will gradually drive down prices.

Small beginnings

Adopting a sustainable business model does not have to happen overnight. Not everyone will be able to redesign their practice or install electric vehicle charging points, for example. But each change, however small, makes a difference.

Whatever you do, be sure to showcase it. Not only are patients looking for such reassurances, but it also helps to promote the importance of sustainability across the sector. Then you can rest assured that you are not only keeping your patients healthy but the planet as well.

For references, email [email protected].

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