Improving The Sustainability Of Dentistry Through Patient Awareness
By Lucy Wyndham
All industries have as significant carbon footprint and dentistry is no different. According to a February 2019 journal published in the British Dental Journal, this footprint amounted to 675 kilotonnes of CO2 per year, a significant contribution. As with much good dental work, patient awareness is key. Just as prevention and good habits contribute greatly to good dental hygiene, so do they to preventing climate change.
Patients should be encouraged, as part of their consultations with a professional, to conserve resources where possible. Climate change has led to a situation where some resources, often taken for granted, are facing scarcity, as a result of warming temperatures and over-consumption. A prime example is water; a March 2019 study conducted by Harvard estimated that nearly half of the USA’s fresh water basins will be rendered unable to meet supply by 2071. A lack of clean and fresh water obviously will have further impacts on dental health. Encourage patients to take simple measures like turning the tap off between rinses, and using as little water as possible – or to use none at all, given that water has the potential to rinse off helpful fluoride residue from pastes. Similarly, aim to recommend products that have lower levels of harmful chemicals that can end up in waterways and oceans.
Much of the resource consumption and emissions produced globally are a result of manufacturing. This includes the often disposable items used by dentistry. To take the example of toothbrushes, 1 billion of the plastic variant will be dumped this year by the USA, according to National Geographic. The first consideration is, of course, to recommend patients use the more effective and less disposable electric types of toothbrush, where available. Alternatively, many practitioners are advocating a move to bamboo and other biodegradable/disposable products that don’t leave an imprint once they’re no longer effective. This extends to the likes of flossing.
Leading by example
The dentist’s practice itself can be a useful source of inspiration for good habits. Consider making your practice actively eco-friendly, and inform your patients about it, too. Cleanliness is obviously the first consideration, but using disposable equipment doesn’t preclude hygiene. Consider using reusable towels instead of paper bibs; natural surface cleansers; reusable wraps for equipment that can be cleaned through heat; and dry vacuum tools. This can extend to maintenance of your surgery, too, for instance by increasing the use of sustainable building materials and paints.
Climate change is an important challenge for everyone, dentists included. Improving the lot of the planet may well improve the situation for your patients, and that’s a great benefit to capture. Awareness is the best way forward, and by leading through example, you can inspire your patients.