For all the good dentists put into the world sometimes the planet’s sustainability comes at the cost, but in the digital age dental offices can become more environmentally friendly. Thinking about waste water and general waste to the office space (plus heating and air conditioning) needed to store materials and dental records, the carbon footprint of a general dentist office isn’t pretty. According to the Eco Dentistry Association every year dental practices generate waste in the numbers of 28 million liters of toxic X-ray fixer, 3.7 tons of mercury and 680 million chair barriers, light handle covers, and patient bibs—some of which are obviously necessary, but other cast-offs are wholly unnecessary. Let’s make your dental practice more sustainable.
Modern concerns require modern solutions. From improving the efficiency of a building’s energy systems and reducing patient visits, to moving on from physical molds and even using shipping and the mail less—technology gives dental practices many ways to practice more consciously. Building an ethical business is more than just ethically right—it’s also good business.
Let’s start with, first, physical impressions: dental impressions materials can account for 30% of solid waste in many dental practices. These negative models of a patient’s mouth and bite are used to cast models, and afterward are essentially useless. If made with materials known as irreversible hydrocolloids, such as alginate, they are biocompatible and can be added to decomposing material, like a community’s compost bin. If made with elastomers like silicones, these aren’t as biodegradable, dentists must find alternative ways of disposal. One Texan, umm, upcycled his old molds by filling potholes (the above image is from the ABC 13 broadcast) with them. Since much of dental waste ends up in landfills, it is probable that old plaster models will be sitting in the ground for decades, affecting soil and microbial life for untold generations.
Sustainable solution: There is another way, however, that is far more eco-friendly: digital dentistry. Other than there not needing to be material used and disposed of, the digital impression is sent electronically rather than physically shipped, greater lessening the carbon footprint.
It’s the responsibility of a dental practice to keep records on file—sometimes for up to six years. Paying for and paying to maintain the space to keep these physical records is frustrating and feels wasteful when factoring in the cost of square footage. Yup, thin pieces of paper add up.
Sustainable solution: Review the HIPAA guidelines and go digital. The shelves upon shelves of manila folders now live in you computer and on a secure cloud. It will be much easier to find patient records, pull them up in every operatory room of your office, and the trees will also thank you.
Moving your dental practice to digital setups also decreases the need to rely on film for all non-imaging photography. And there are even more every-day, cost-saving green tips that apply to any dental office: switching nonessential lighting to more efficient bulbs; using technology to eliminate paper billing and appointment reminders, and striving to recycle more. Kids, of course, should still get stickers, but you might also recommend patients use all-natural floss, avoiding disposable, plastic toothbrushes as gifts, and reminding patients to brush with the water off. Every drop counts.
And while small improvements like lightbulbs and water flossers are worth doing, the real driver of business success lies in efficiency. Which is why digital, intraoral scanning is more than just a green solution to plaster waste. The ease with which dentists can scan a patient for digital modeling results in (happier) patients who make fewer trips to the dentist. Technology’s improved precision leads to better crowns, bridges, and appliances, which—again—saves money but also saves time, visits, car trips, and all the waste that accompanies inefficiency. Going with efficiency is going green, and going green makes you money. For patients, dentists, staff, and even Mother Earth—our digital future builds more a sustainable world, and heightens the positive impact you have on your community.