Over the last few decades, there has been a steady rise in environmental awareness around the world. More and more people are beginning to think of ways that they can be more “green” in their everyday lives. In the simplest of terms, going green means making decisions and adopting habits that benefit the health of the planet and community, often accomplished by minimizing harmful impacts on the environment and conserving resources.
This green movement has reached many different industries and areas of society, and one of those is dentistry. Many dental offices across the globe are adopting eco-dentistry (A.K.A. “green dentistry”) to help preserve the planet and its resources. This type of dental practice not only contributes to the overall health of the environment but can also add social value to communities.
As more dental offices around the world commit to using best practices that are eco-conscious and sustainable, it promises to make a real impact on the earth and help to ensure the health and safety of future generations. And it all starts with simple changes in routine operations and procedures.
At South Charlotte Dentistry, we are dedicated to doing our part in utilizing measures that promote green dentistry. We want to make a positive impact on the environment and our community. But it’s going to require effort from consumers as well. Below, we’ll cover more about eco-conscious dentistry and how dental offices and consumers alike can make practical changes that benefit the world around us.
CARBON FOOTPRINT OF DENTAL OFFICES
The term “carbon footprint” refers to the amount of carbon produced by any individual or group, and it covers both direct and indirect impacts. One of the most common ways carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere is through the burning of fossil fuels. This includes oil, coal, and natural gas. Waste also contributes to this problem; this is especially the case in large areas, such as landfills, where 55% of all trash in the United States ends up.
For a long time, dental offices have left a significant carbon footprint. Yes, things are getting better, but there’s a long way to go. The environmental impact of dentistry essentially comes from the high use of energy and resources. To develop a more sustainable model, oral health professionals across the globe will need to commit to a complete overhaul of the current model. This, of course, will take time.
On any given day, the typical dental office uses many types of electronic equipment, lots of water, and a considerable number of disposable products. Single-use plastic products contribute greatly to environmental issues, along with other kinds of medical and dental waste. Here are some examples of waste used in medical offices each day, none of which are easily decomposed:
- Chair barriers
- Light handle covers
- Patient bibs
- Sterilization pouches
- Saliva ejectors
- Suction tips
Figuring out how to reduce waste, as well as use less energy and water in day-to-day operations, will be at the forefront of dentistry and other medical industries for the foreseeable future. With time, sustainable clinical approaches that maintain the highest standards for patient care can and will be developed.
STEPS DENTAL OFFICES ARE TAKING
Many eco-conscious dental offices are already taking steps to improve their operations. Perhaps most significantly, these offices are using fewer plastic products and other products that do not easily decompose. Incorporating less plastic barrier wrap in recommended asepsis protocols, using biodegradable paper cups, and replacing plastic evacuator tips with paper ones are a few examples. Many offices are also now adding masks and gloves to their list of products to recycle.
Additionally, eco-conscious dental offices are rethinking the garments worn by medical professionals and staff members. You might notice your dentist wearing a laundered lab coat instead of a paper one, and reusable utility gloves are becoming the norm, which cuts down on waste from exam gloves. Moreover, the use of organic scrubs and biodegradable nitrile gloves is gaining traction.
Then there are logistics. Eco-conscious dental offices are making practical changes to how they operate each day in terms of managing inventory, ordering products, and sending mail. Implementing more stringent inventory control measures helps to curb the number of expired products that must be discarded. Ordering products in bulk helps to minimize packaging and shipping waste. And transitioning to a paperless system, such as using electronic health records and sending digital appointment reminders, significantly reduces paper waste.
SUSTAINABLE DENTAL CARE AT HOME
We’ve discussed some of the steps dental offices are taking to stem the tide of environmental harm. Now, let’s talk about some dental care products and practices that each of us can implement at home to benefit the planet:
It probably comes as no surprise that the plastic used in conventional toothbrushes is not easily degradable. What’s more, roughly 3.6 billion plastic toothbrushes are used worldwide each year, and about 80% of these end up in the ocean. By switching to bamboo toothbrushes, you can become part of the solution to this problem. A bamboo toothbrush can be composted (as long as you remove the nylon bristles first), reused for cleaning purposes, or repurposed as garden markers, among other ideas.
Conventional toothpaste tubes are made up of several materials, including plastic and aluminum. They are next to impossible to recycle, and about 400 million tubes are discarded each year in the U.S. alone, most of which end up in landfills. Enter toothpaste bites. These bite-size tablets are just as effective as traditional toothpaste, yet they come in recyclable or reusable jars. And they’re really easy to use: You simply put a tablet in your mouth, bite down, and use a wet toothbrush to clean your teeth.
Toothpaste bites are not the only solution to the toothpaste tube problem. You can make effective alternatives at home with minimal cost and effort involved. For example, consider brushing your teeth with baking soda, which is a mild abrasive that freshens breath and whitens teeth. If you want the mint factor, you can throw a little bit of peppermint or spearmint essential oil into the mix. Better yet, adding a small amount of coconut or sunflower oil will turn it into a paste.
Toothpaste in a Recyclable Container
If neither tablets nor DIY toothpaste is your thing, you can still benefit the environment by using premade toothpaste that comes in a recyclable container. Various products on the market will thoroughly clean your teeth—some that come in a glass jar and some that come in a metal tube. Just be sure to clean the jars or tubes when recycling!
Biodegradable Silk Floss
Plastic floss can—you guessed it—significantly harm the planet. But it can harm your health as well. A lot of conventional floss is coated with perfluoroalkyl substances that can contribute to heart disease and cancer. By switching to biodegradable silk floss, you can bypass that risk while still getting the smooth glide that comes from conventional floss. Most silk floss comes in a refillable glass container, which is an added benefit to the environment.
Another option to the floss problem is using a water flosser. Many people find these products, such as those manufactured by Waterpik, more practical and enjoyable to use than traditional floss. When it comes to removing plaque from teeth, water flossers are considered to be at least as effective, and they’re ideal for cleaning around orthodontic devices. Yes, water flossers are made from plastic, but they last a long time and are an effective eco-conscious substitute for disposable plastic floss.
Similar to toothpaste, you can simply make DIY mouthwash at home. Plastic mouthwash bottles are recyclable, but they still add to mounting numbers of waste for our environment, not to mention the consequences of manufacturing new bottles and shipping them to stores. Consider making your own mouthwash with lemon juice and water, apple cider vinegar and salt, or baking soda and salt. You can also find recipes online for a fresh-smelling herbal mouthwash that includes mint extract, sage and peppermint leaves, and other herbs.
Mouthwash tablets are quite similar to toothpaste tablets. They’re very convenient, and you can use them on the go. All you do is drop a tablet into a glass of water and swish it around your mouth as you would traditional mouthwash. And many products come in glass jars, which is also a plus for the environment.
This is yet another alternative to using conventional mouthwash. Oil pulling refers to the practice of swishing oil (e.g., coconut, olive, sesame, etc.) around in your mouth for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. It can be done as often as three times per day, though some individuals find doing it once a week to be beneficial.
There are many benefits associated with oil pulling. It can kill harmful oral bacteria, fight cavities, whiten teeth, reduce inflammation, and boost overall gum health. For some individuals, it has even been shown to mitigate bad breath. It’s also inexpensive and easy to incorporate into your daily routine; you can do household tasks, work, and/or do various other activities while oil pulling.
Charcoal/Baking Soda for Whitening
Teeth whitening is also a practice you can do from home while being conscious of the environment. Conventional whitening systems may work well, but they add waste to the ecosystem and consume energy during the packaging and shipping processes.
One solution is to use eco-friendly toothpaste that contains activated charcoal. In such a toothpaste, the charcoal binds to plaque and removes surface stains from teeth. Baking soda is also an effective option for teeth whitening, as it’s a natural abrasive. Mix baking soda and olive oil in a glass jar to keep in your bathroom. You might be surprised by the difference brushing with this mixture can make; even once a week can whiten your teeth significantly.
Finally, each of us can contribute to a healthier environment by being conscious of how much water we use daily. This includes when we brush our teeth. Each time you brush, make sure you turn off the water after you wet your toothbrush, and leave it off until you rinse. If you want to take it a step further, keep a cup on your sink to use for rinsing, which will require less water than using your hand. And be sure to instill these habits into your kids!
As more and more people become conscious of how they can preserve the planet, green movements continue to rise. Green dentistry promises to gain traction with the years to come, and South Charlotte Dentistry is eager to participate in protecting our environment and providing social value to our community.
Along with dental offices changing how they do things, consumers also have a responsibility to take steps toward fostering the health of our environment. Consider the information and advice above to figure out how you can implement eco-conscious dental health practices in your everyday life. Here’s to a healthier, happier environment for generations to come!