Green dentistry? Sounds like an oxymoron. Dentistry is about white: the color of beautiful teeth, lab coats and cotton dental rolls. Think again. Picture the sights and the sounds of the dentist’s office: the water and electricity essential for dental work. Imagine the volume of syringes, disposable waste and chemicals generated in an office.
A Pennsylvania dentist recently pleaded guilty to dumping 260 hypodermic needles, 180 cotton swabs and numerous containers for dental filling material into the ocean, causing numerous beach closures in New Jersey. Multiply that by the approximate two millions dentists worldwide. Get the picture now?
More and more dental practices are paying attention to their effects on Mother Earth. And they are finding that integrating environmentally-friendly procedures into their offices is often better for the patient and even the other green – the bottom line of the practice. So it is inevitable that Greener dentistry will have its impact in offices around the world.
The Green Dental Movement
Some trace the beginning of the Green movement back to the European Dental Students Congress in March of 2003, when the Greek delegation set an outline for the initiative (www.greendentistry.com). With environmental awareness growing around the world, interest in the dental community was inevitable.
Even so, best practices did not immediately take off and become universal. Issues addressed by Green Dentistry are often embedded in general “medical waste handling” guidelines, but regulations exist in few countries. Some states and counties in the US have independently issued guidelines and recommendations for dental practitioners. In Europe, no legislation exists concerning the handling of dental waste.
Dental societies and practice management courses in dental schools focus on the handling of bloody/infectious materials, amalgam and other waste. Although no standards have been adopted across the board by government or professional bodies, any individual dental practice can do so.
Who should be concerned about Green Dentistry? Pretty much all of us, from the dental community, to those who make the products used by dentists, to patients and the general public. After all, we all live here.
Moving Toward Environmentally-Friendly Dentistry
Preventing pollution of our natural environment (soil, water, and atmosphere) with hazardous agents can limit direct and indirect risks to public health. Energy consumption reduction and recycling can also make a difference.
Dentists are taking varying levels of action around the world. In ground-up initiatives, some US dental offices are striving to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED Certified. This is a third-party certification program and benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings.
Certification requires a thorough look at everything that goes into an office including the use of recyclable materials, special paints and laminates and the disposal of construction waste. While some offices strive to meet these standards, it is unlikely the typical dentist will go that far. They don’t have too; there is so much they can accomplish with less effort.
Some may believe that making changes for a better environment will be costly and inconvenient. “I think there may be a misconception that going green means spending more. It’s true that there may be some additional upfront expenses, but many studies have proven that over time, sustainable practices provide an exceptional return on investment,” says Dr. Jason McMilla, a Portland Oregon dentist who should know; he set up the first certified green practice in the States.
The main areas for improvement in a practice are in energy efficiency, water conservation, higher air quality, and waste reduction. These are the places to start. Small steps don’t require a lot of effort or money and often yield immediate, noticeable benefits.
Advice for Going Green
These are some specific actions that dental offices should consider.
1) Reduce waste and pollution
Dental processes and procedures generate significant waste and pollution. Four processes account for most of this waste: disposable infection control and sterilization methods; mercury-containing waste; conventional x-ray systems; and conventional vacuum systems. New products and technologies are gaining usage for cleaner, greener dental offices. Practitioners can eliminate or mediate waste. Recycling by employees, switching incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescents or buying non-toxic cleaning products can have a large impact over time. In many cases, the eco-friendly alternatives better serve patient health and save money to boot.
2) Save Water and Energy
Going green can save an office $50,000/year. It’s estimated that using tooth-colored instead of silver amalgam restorations can save $37,000/year. Digital billing, charting and x-rays may also save over $8,000/year.
3) Incorporate High-Tech
Many innovations are better for patients and the planet. Using advanced technology reduces the waste generated over the alternative, and eliminates the need for chemicals that can be toxic to patients and staff. Digital x-rays, tooth-colored restorations and steam sterilization methods can all help.
4) Be Wellness-Based
Preventative dentistry is good for the patient. Early care is part of any green dentistry program and can prevent the need for later and more serious care. Treating a patient before problems arise can prevent later issues, and even affect the health of other bodily systems, like the cardiovascular system.
The Eco-Dentistry Association offers practitioners easy and cost-effective information for going green. For tips on how practitioners can use easy and cost-effective tips relating to the four areas of green dentistry, visit their website at www.ecodentistry.org.
Pan American Dental Tours~ We Want to Help
Pan American Dental Tours (www.panamdenaltours.com) sends dental patients to Panama for treatment. We appreciate the natural tropical beauty of the country and the camaraderie of its people.
Patients usually want to visit the Panama Canal during their stay. The Canal is one of the most amazing engineering marvels of our time. Fresh water supplied by Lake Gatun, the largest fresh water lake in the world keeps the Canal running. Local rain forests, home to an incredible abundance of plants and animals, supply a continuous supply of fresh water to the Lake. Pollution threats to the water in Panama (its neighbor, Costa Rica, another popular dental tourism location has similar issues) can destroy the local environment, and ultimately the world’s eco-equilibrium. We must do what we can to see that does not happen.
We plan to share green information with the dentists who work with us (including this article). Pan American Dental Tours has visited these dentists, and as practitioners of the state-of-the art dentistry, they will be interested in knowing more about the changes they can make. We encourage others engaged in dental tourism to share these best practices with the dentists in their networks as well.
About the Author
As owner of 2 successful Medical Education agencies working in the US and Internationally, Jeffrey Apton created numerous programs to deliver better information to health care professionals and consumers. Many of these programs were featured in industry and national media, including Pharmaceutical Executive, Newsweek, CNN, BBC, etc.
His clients were major pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, including Pfizer, Merck and Novartis as well as non-profit patient advocacy groups. Jeff also serves as Vice Chairman and counselor for a Connecticut Chapter of SCORE, a non-profit association that has helped over 8.5 million small businesses owners across the US.
Pan American Dental Tours has been featured in many Medical Tourism Magazine, Westchester Business Journal, Greenwich Times, Stamford Advocate, Danbury News Times, Westchester Journal News, Babyboomers.com and Traveling4health.com.
Read his blog on dentistry, dental tourism, Panama and Baby Boomer life issues: http://www.panamdentaltours.com/blog/
Join him on Twitter at: 877panamdt
Jeff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org