Dentistry is responsible for 3.7 tons of mercury waste per year. Approximately 1.7 billion sterilization pouches and 680 million patient bibs and chair barriers from dental practices end up in our landfills annually. Dentistry is making a monumental impact on the environment. This is why some practices are choosing to go green.
Green dentistry is the art of reducing negative environmental impact by consciously reducing waste, using less energy, and reducing pollution. This is important because we are running out of room for non-biodegradable waste. In addition, as our trash decomposes, it releases toxic chemicals that mix with other toxic byproducts produced by the mountain of debris and hazardous waste in the landfill. These toxic concoctions permeate the soil until it reaches our water supplies. The noxious gasses create environmental toxins. This pollution contaminates our air supply, damaging our immune systems and leaving us environmentally susceptible, and at risk for harmful carcinogenic pathogens.
As the saying goes, “When we know better, we do better.” To that end as medical professionals and, more importantly, as conscientious, ethical human beings, we should consider what we can do to reduce negative environmental impact.
Dentistry has been slow on the uptake of sustainability and somewhat resistant to making green-friendly changes. The reasons for this are varied. However, there are changes we can implement almost immediately, to help make a difference.
- Purchase items in bulk
- Reuse lab & shipping boxes
- Separate your recyclables
- Change printer settings to print double-sided
- Refill ink cartridges
- Go paperless, use electronic record-keeping
- Upgrade to digital radiographs
- Use autoclavable suction tips and air/water syringes
- Use steam sterilization as opposed to chemicals
- Use washable plates and cutlery in employee break rooms
- Change office light bulbs to energy-efficient LED
- Install motion sensors to conserve energy
- Dispense biodegradable toothbrushes
- Eliminate postcards and utilize e-reminders
In reality, plastic use in dentistry is unavoidable and prioritizing sustainability is not necessarily a cost-cutting measure. Recycling requires time and effort, traits generally in short supply within the dental practice.
According to EcoSmiles Dentistry and Get Mouthy Eco-friendly dental subscription box founder, Lynda Sherman EFDA, “Sustainability starts with someone wanting to make a difference in the world.” It requires changing to a green mindset; to think beyond here and now to the long-term effects of the decisions we presently make. Progress is often birthed out of a process of inconvenience. A growth mindset always requires acknowledging the journey to betterment may be paved with stones of discomfort.
She states, “There is more to being sustainable than simply changing out light bulbs or installing sensored water faucets. Dental auxiliaries should be prepared for patients and have everything in order before starting a procedure to reduce excessive glove changes. Sterilization pouches are recyclable, but the paper portion must be torn apart from the plastic portion and separated into appropriate bins for proper recycling.”
The dental Hippocratic Oath includes a portion that states,
“I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.
I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the inform.”
We could assume most have never regarded integrating sustainable waste management when taking that oath, but as dentistry is a branch of the healing arts focused on prevention, the oath may have more relevance than one might assume.
Environmental degradation is a preventable disease that we are inflicting upon our planet. Lynda put it in terms to which we can relate. If we choose to ignore our role as it contributes to sustainability, recycling, and the execution of eco-friendly practices, we are “giving the Earth a big cavity.”
If we are truly prevention specialists, we should aspire to not only prevent further degradation of our planet but create an environment that doesn’t need protecting.
For more information on EcoSmiles Dentistry and Get Mouthy dental subscription box www.getmouthybox.com, contact Lynda Sherman at [email protected]
For more information on becoming a certified green dental practice, visit https://ecodentistry.org/greendoc/get-certified-eda/ We are truly prevention specialists
Her clinical and support team experiences are the inspiration for her writing and the motivation for coaching clients to success. She is a regular contributor to various publications within dentistry and beyond. In addition to feeding the homeless, starting a non-profit, and being involved in her church and other community organizations, she sings professionally and enjoys several creative outlets. She resides in Florida where she enjoys the company of her husband, three children, and four beautiful grandchildren.
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