by Mudita Agrawal, University of Michigan (2016)

It was a beautiful Sunday morning in Kolkata, India when I went to the market to get vegetables with my husband. There was the usual chaos of everyone trying to get their hands on the freshest vegetables for the best deal. Suddenly, something caught my attention.  I saw a huge pile of plastic, boxes, and leftovers stacked in the corner of the alley that were covered with animals trying to find their early morning breakfast. It struck me then that we are living in a world where climatic changes have begun to hammer our ecosystems and compromise our living conditions. While undoing past damage is not possible, bettering the situation for future generations is still within our reach. It is then that I realized that we as dentists should go green, too!

Soon enough, I learned about green dentistry and came to know of innovative and easy ways to reduce waste, conserve energy and water, and to reduce pollution. A green dental practice is one that reflects our commitment to the well-being of our patients, team members, community, and the environment. Through diligent planning we can create high-performance green facilities that are a healthy, productive place to work, are less costly to operate and maintain, and would reduce our environmental footprint.

Dental clinic infection control and sterilization processes can be a major source of pollution. These plastic-containing products that do not decompose are used for a short time and end up in landfills. They can jeopardize employee health and can pollute our community’s water systems.  One possible alternative is the use of steam sterilization.  This method can replace more toxic chemical-based sterilization. The use of cloth lab coats, re-usable cloth patient barriers, and FDA-registered re-usable pouches and wraps all reduce the use of disposables in the dental office.

Traditional x-ray fixers contain chemicals such as ammonium thiocyanate and boric anhydride which can be hazardous if ingested or inhaled. Another by-product of traditional x-rays would be lead which is a deadly neurotoxin. Digital imaging is a solution to this issue. If traditional x-rays are taken, fixer and developer solutions can be recycled.

Amalgam filling material contains mercury, silver, tin and copper. Mercury in our drinking, irrigation, and fishing waters can be a serious environmental concern. Nowadays, most dental offices are equipped with amalgam separators.  These are a method of filtration that are readily available, relatively inexpensive, and low-maintenance pieces of equipment.

Clean water is one of the most undervalued dental supplies, considering the worldwide water crisis threatens human health and stability in many areas of the globe. Suction systems, also known as dental vacuum systems, are an important piece of machinery for any dental office. Unfortunately, these systems use a tremendous amount of water. With the world facing such a serious water crisis, we shouldn’t be pouring this precious resource down the drain. High-tech, dry vacuum systems are a green alternative that accomplish the same results while using no water at all.  Green dental practices can also implement water-saving initiatives such as encouraging patients to turn off the water while they brush.

We can take small steps that have the possibility to bring about a huge difference to the ecosystem as a whole.  Recycling materials such as aluminum, glass, plastic, paper, and steel reduces office waste. Dental clinics can also go paperless! We can utilize a virtual office for patient charting, billing and radiography. We can also send appointment reminders through email or text message only. We can save electricity by installing solar electric panels and solar water heaters, using LCD computer screens instead of CRT displays screens, installing skylights to enhance lighting and keeping it energy free, and installing motion detectors and timers for lights.

Contrary to the perception that eco-friendly methods cost more, we now know that, in the long run, going green saves green! Green dentistry lowers supply costs, integrates high-tech innovations, and makes efficient use of staff time, reducing the overhead and increasing productivity for a dental practice.  With cognizance toward how we treat both our patients and our environment, we can all transform how we practice dentistry for the good of all.

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