The sterilization and infection control processes used in traditional dental offices can be significant sources of waste and pollution due to their dangerous nature. Poor air quality, dangerous working conditions and community water contamination are among some of the scarier adverse effects. A more eco-friendly dentistry model has only recently gained traction as the use of disposable dental supplies has been steadily rising. For purposes of clarification, this article uses the following definition of eco-friendly dentistry, “an approach to dentistry that implements sustainable practices by keeping resource consumption in line with nature’s economy, by safeguarding the external environment by virtue of eliminating or reducing outgoing wastes and by promoting well-being of all those in the clinical environment by conscious reduction of the chemicals in the breathable air.” If running a healthier, safer, more eco-friendly dental office that saves money through reduction in waste and resource consumption sounds good to you, check out these five effective suggestions below. These recommendations can help form a foundation designed to help your dental office become more environmentally and economically efficient and are simple guidelines that can help your office achieve its waste reduction goals quickly and effectively.
1. Implement an Eco-Friendly Sterilization Program and Materials
An eco-friendly sterilization program utilizes non-toxic infection control and steam sterilization rather than chemical-based processes. Chemicals traditionally used in infection control and sterilization can be very harmful and hazardous to human health and the overall environment. By reducing the use of these dangerous chemicals in your dental office, you can not only reduce your toxic waste, but also improve working conditions for your staff and facility conditions for your clients. Additionally, single use disposable autoclave wraps, disposable patient bibs, and single use sterilization items account for a significant amount of the waste produced within a dental office. Your dental office can eliminate a lot of its waste by switching to re-usable pouches, wraps, and cloth-based patient bibs. In a recent article in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association, Dr. Ali Farahani explains his plan to recycle autoclave bags in his green dental practice by separating the plastic and paper portions, thus allowing him to participate in his community’s existing recycling program. Even in a small office, 5,100 pieces of paper and plastic can be saved from the landfill annually by implementing a similar process. Furthermore, Dr. Farahani states that after developing a new eco-friendly cassette sterilization program, he also plans to eliminate the use of disposable autoclave wraps and the need for disposable patient bibs entirely. Slightly altering your sterilization processes and materials can have a dramatic effect on your waste stream further contributing to a less cluttered workspace that needs less maintenance and is better for the environment.
2. Use Cotton Towels
Another way to effectively reduce waste within your dental office is to choose reusable cotton towels over disposable plastic bibs. Cloth sterilization wraps and pouches and reusable cloth bibs are becoming a popular option in many dental practices. Maintenance is as simple as implementing a wash-dry-reuse cycle on a regular basis. Another recommendation is to use reusable cloth towels in your bathrooms rather than paper towels for hand drying. Based in Townsend, DE, Dover Family and Cosmetic Dentistry has adopted reusable cloth towels in their bathrooms creating a more eco-friendly and spa-like environment for their pampered patients. Although they come with numerous benefits, using cloth towels should be approached with care as they can harbor microbes if they are reused without washing.
3. Use Stainless Steel Prophy Cups and Prophy Paste in Tubes
“It’s about changing consumption patterns,” Dr. Farahani explains in another article, Eco-Friendly Dentistry: Not a Matter of Choice. Here Dr. Farahani is referring to the use of stainless steel prophy cups instead of disposable prophy-containing cups, a choice that can further reduce your dental office waste and costs. The article goes on to explain how using prophy paste in tubes or tubs offers the ability to use only the amount needed as opposed to a predetermined amount that is often excessive, wasteful and costly. Along similar lines, Dr. Farahani also recommends using stainless steel endodontics suction tips as an alternative to disposable plastic tips which can even further reduce unnecessary waste from your dental office.
4. Implement a Simple Recycling and Waste Control Program
This is probably one of the simpler recommendations to implement. Your dental office can begin at the grassroots level by recycling print paper, recycling food waste in break rooms, eliminating the use of plastic bottles and cans with re-usable drinking vessels, and purchasing biodegradable cleaning products. On a higher level, your dental practice may want to consider recycling the plastic and paper separately from autoclave bags as mentioned above, or even recycling the fixer and developer solutions along with lead foil from x-rays. Professor emeritus of microbiology at the Indiana University School of Dentistry, Dr. Chris Miller recommends any form of recycling (plastics, paper, metals, glass, etc.) depending upon what your local recycling program will accept.
5. Go Paperless
Going paperless involves transitioning your office to be completely digital and eliminating the use of paper. Modern technology makes it easy for your office to communicate with patients electronically, implement electronic billing, use electronic charts rather than paper-based charts, spread information through electronic presentations and make sure that you can easily communicate with everyone in the office via the phone and/or computer. Ryan Brown warns against transitioning all at once and provides three simple steps for going paperless at your dental office: 1. Create treatment plans within your software, 2. go digital with your X-rays, and 3. use some type of digital document software. Brown points out that electronic information is easier to capture and is more accessible. By going paperless one step at a time you can avoid a stressed staff, needless mistakes and a backed up waiting room. As with any change, getting your staff on board is important. Hold an educational seminar to teach employees what eco-friendly dentistry is at your location specifically. Educate staff and employees about the importance of going green as it relates to your clients, your green commitment and your bottom line as a business. Dr Miller mentions that going green at your dental office is a personal decision and should take several factors into consideration including your environmental philosophy, proof of product or procedure “greenness”, infection control efficacy, cost, ability to act, and availability of products. Image Credit: Inhabitat.com