I went to undergraduate school in Austin, TX, also known as the best city in the best state in the USA. There’s nothing quite like living your four most formative years in the “Live Music Capital of the World”. When I wasn’t in class studying hard to get into dental school, I spent many hours running the trails from my West Campus apartment to Town Lake. When I wasn’t running, I was typically stuffing my face at one of the many delicious food spots in the city. Between carbo loading with breakfast tacos at Juan In A Million and running off the Freshman 15, I learned a lot about what it means to be conscientious of the world we live in.
Growing up in a suburb of Houston, recycling was not an easy task. Inner city families had the opportunity to place their recycling out with their trash to be picked up by two different trucks. In the suburbs, you let cans and paper pile up until you eventually throw it out in the trash or finally bring it to a recycling center. Needless to say, my family seemingly didn’t care about the environment. In Austin, I found myself asking people on a regular basis, “Do you recycle?” before chucking a beer can in the trash. At the University of Texas, I learned the true meaning of going green through the sustainability initiative began in 2000. The University has implanted green labs for researchers, green buildings and a university-wide sustainability lecture series.
Universities and large corporations across the country are looking for more eco-friendly approaches to doing business. It’s no surprise this trend has infiltrated dentistry. According to the Eco-Dentistry Association website, green dentistry encompasses four main goals. Green dentistry reduces waste and pollution; saves water, energy and money; is high-tech; and supports a wellness lifestyle.
At my dental school, we don’t learn much about eco-friendly dentistry. My Dean would hate for me not to mention that our new dental school building was built with saving the environment in mind. From going completely digital to creating an almost virtual library to motion light sensors throughout the building, our school is a state-of-the-art environmentally friendly building. The same cannot be said about the students. Every day in clinic, I use an entire trash bag just for sterilization pouches. There are certain practices set to prevent large amounts of waste. It’s just as easy to ignore these recommendations, as it is to actually comply. When you pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to an institution, it’s hard to not have the mindset of “oh, this amalgam looks terrible on my typodont tooth, let me redo it 10 times with new amalgam each time”.
I spent countless hours on the EDA website researching exactly what eco-friendly dentistry means. I was astonished by how much waste dentistry actually produces and how little effort it takes to create a Green Practice. Among dental waste is paper. Today, it is very common for practices to be paperless and use digital radiographs. Amalgam waste is an obvious toxin. Using an amalgam separator is one way to prevent an excess release of mercury waste. Something as simple as switching to energy-efficient light bulbs and motion sensors is not only beneficial to the environment, but also saves a practice roughly $601 a year according to a 2008 study by Natural Logic Sustainability Consulting. The same study found dentists who switch to cloth operatory and sterilization methods, instead of disposables, save on average $2,337 annually. Imagine the savings at a dental school.
Learning about green dentistry must start in the dental schools, though this is understandably difficult to include in an already-tough curriculum. Every ASDA chapter should take advantage of the resources available on www.ecodentistry.org. A Student’s Guide to Eco-Dentistry™ will help chapters teach students how to be green.
Does your dental school have any eco-friendly practices? Will you have a green dental practice in your future?
Minimizing our environmental impact and reducing clutter is an important factor to any practice. I work with a few dentists that have gone to paperless offices, and this is a good first step. Careful sterilization, using low-energy lights and devices are also becoming important steps to lowering environmental impact.
It’s something that the dental industry doesn’t really think about but we can have a big impact on. From energy consumption to proper waste disposal and choosing greener products we all have a role to play! While one of us won’t be enough to change the world if we all got on the same page then we could make a huge difference!
Our office is committed to eco-friendliness, as we were the very first office to go paperless in 1997. This is actually a practice that benefits both patients and dentists, as it reduces waste and the chances of mixing up or losing files and documentation. I have also written on how to minimize energy usage at your dental practice. It’s very easy to turn off computers when you are not using them, but we have established a mythos that states it takes more energy to boot up a computer and thus its just easier to leave it on. This is false. Switching off electronics like computers when not in use, such as when you go home for the day, can save you hundreds a year in electrical bills. This in turn can be used to improve and grow your practice, or to reward your employees for their hard work. Switching out lights to lower energy usage is also beneficial, and many of the new LED and eco-friendly lights offered are great for dental practices as they more accurately mimic natural light.
So, being eco-friendly not only makes sense from keeping our living and working space nice, it also can save us money in the long run, and provide more accurate results.