Practising green dentistry

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green dentistry
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Green dentistry is more than a catchphrase. It’s about implementing sustainable practices to have a positive impact on the environment and your business. By Kerryn Ramsey

With more people embracing sustainable alternatives across all aspects of their life, the opportunity to visit a green dentist greatly appeals. Practices that reduce their environmental impact by using less energy and producing less waste may see their actions also increase client numbers. While green dentistry is responsible for real-world, tangible benefits for the environment, it’s not something that has to be adopted all at once. Small changes can lead to improved outcomes and save money in the long run.

Power up

One of the most effective ways to reduce the carbon footprint of a dental practice is to install a solar system. It’s an environmentally friendly way to generate the electricity needed to power equipment, lights and air-conditioning. Even if the system is unable to fully power the clinic, the benefits in reduced costs and lower carbon emissions are substantial. 

“There is an initial outlay when installing solar,” says Rod Phillips, managing director of Elite Fitout Solutions, a healthcare design and fit-out specialist company. “It will take years to see the monetary savings but they will happen. Australia has one of the best climates in the world for solar generation and dental practices can really capitalise on that. They generally don’t operate at night so they get maximum benefit from solar generated power. In many cases, they can run their business for free.”

Swapping from fluorescent tubes and halogen globes to new LED lighting is another easy way to help the environment and save money. This is particularly true if the new lighting is solar powered.

Dr Mandy Liu, who owns and runs Dentist Mandy in the Sydney suburb of Bondi Beach, embraces green dentistry wherever possible in her practice. 

“Our clients are very environmentally conscious and we try to align our behaviour with local community expectations,” says Dr Liu. “While we don’t have solar yet, we have updated all our lighting to LED. We also installed motion sensors. Instead of having lights on all day, they only operate when someone is in the room. It’s an easy way to save money and go green.”

Digital technology

As the dental profession enthusiastically embraces digital technology, the added benefit is that it’s an environmentally friendly way of doing things. One of the most obvious improvements is that old-school film X-rays have been largely replaced by digital units. All the chemicals, films and containers that would have ultimately ended up in landfill are gone. Digital X-rays are faster, more accurate and have negligible impact on the environment.

“Digital scanners put an end to impressions made from alginates and the subsequent moulds,” says Phillips. “All of which were landfill bound. Practices with digital radiography, CBCT units, digital intra-oral cameras and CAD/CAM technology with 3D printing are embracing green initiatives. The majority of the information is kept online while manufactured devices, appliances and crowns are created with minimal wastage.”

Not too long ago, the amount of paper consumed by a dental practice was huge. Digital technology, management software, patient reminder systems, SMS, email and e-newsletters has seen a massive reduction in waste paper.

“Going digital has made Dentist Mandy virtually paperless,” says Dr Liu. “We don’t post cards or letters to patients. Patient files are digital. Email and SMS are our main forms of contact. We only print when absolutely necessary. Our practice uses digital imaging equipment and 3D scanners. This technology reduces the number of appointments and the amount of travel for patients. We haven’t used harmful chemicals and developer for years.”

Other options

When it comes time to renovate all, or part, of your practice, there is always a chance to choose more sustainable products. Everything from energy-efficient heating and cooling systems to volatile organic compounds-free paint to sustainable timbers.

“We can direct our clients to more sustainable options in almost every area of renovation, fit-out or building,” says Phillips. “Some products are made from 100 per cent reused material, which is as green as you can get. Linoleum can be used in place of vinyl flooring. Sustainable furniture looks good, wears well, and has a tiny carbon footprint.”

Changing procedures and rethinking how products are used is another way to go green. A great first step is to reduce the plastic use in the practice. 

“One of the first things we did was to change from plastic to paper cups,” says Dr Liu. “We used to put plastic on the headrest of the chair and change it between patients. But we were thoroughly cleaning the headrest between patients anyway, so the plastic was simply not needed. When we purchase materials, we purposely look for companies that sell biodegradable products and buy from them.”

Green future

A walk through the practice can reveal ways to reduce energy consumption and save money. Window awnings and blinds keep the sun out and reduce cooling costs in summer. Or, a reflective film on the window can do the same job. Effective insulation will also help reduce the amount of energy needed for heating and cooling. New joinery can be constructed from sustainable timbers. Choose eco-friendly cleaning products that work just as well as solvents and non-biodegradable cleaners. 

“We’re very aware that our clients need to run a commercially viable clinic,” says Phillips. “Sustainable options are no barrier to this outcome. About 80 per cent of our projects incorporate some amount of green measures. Advances in digital technology and public sentiment indicates that the future of dentistry is green.”

Green dentistry requires a small change of mindset. Patient care and professional standards must not be compromised but changes can be made with no impact in those areas.

“The biggest advantage of going green is that you’re choosing not to harm the environment while reducing costs at the same time,” says Dr Liu. “It’s a no-brainer. While the impetus is often client-driven, the outcomes are a positive for the practice and the staff. We’ve had people become regular clients because they saw the eco-dentistry page on our website. I believe, and I hope, the future of dentistry is green.”  

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