Green Dentistry: How Dentists Are Going Eco-Friendly

By Sher Warkentin in Thinking Sustainably

Regular dental care is essential to maintaining your oral health, but what if that care comes at the planet's expense? From waste to pollution, the dental industry has a significant impact on the environment—but things are looking up. Eco-friendly dentistry uses sustainable practices to keep both patients and the planet healthy. Learn more about how the dental industry is adapting to the Earth's changing needs.

What Is Green Dentistry?

Green dentistry is a newly developing practice of eco-friendly dentistry that involves a whole-Earth approach to dental care. The concept is designed to minimize environmental impact through sustainable methods based on the 4 R's model: rethink, reduce, reuse, and recycle.

How Does the Dentistry Industry Impact the Environment?

Traditional dental procedures involve a significant amount of energy, water, and material waste. According to Decisions in Dentistry, dental practices throw away about 680 million chair barriers, light handle covers, and patient bibs yearly.

Standard dentistry tools, like X-ray machines and dental amalgams, can also contribute to pollution. For example, dental practices produce about 28 million liters of toxic X-ray fixer and 3.7 tons of mercury waste each year.

Green dentistry involves reusable dental tools.

What Are the Primary Components of Green Dentistry?

Dental practices can shift toward environmental-friendly dentistry in many ways. Some of these efforts include:

Reducing Energy and Water Consumption

Dental offices consume plenty of energy and water during patient procedures. Green dentistry proposes switching to compact fluorescent lighting in dental offices and leverages technologies like motion sensors to help conserve energy wherever possible.

Dental vacuum or saliva ejector systems can use a tremendous amount of water. As Decisions in Dentistry explains, conventional vacuum systems use up to 360 gallons of water per day. Switching to a dry vacuum system can help conserve water.

Cutting Down on Waste

Dental practices require highly sterilized settings and tools, which has traditionally led to reliance on disposable items like bibs and dental instruments. While it's hard to avoid single-use items in some situations, swapping these materials for recyclable or biodegradable alternatives can help minimize the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.

Other items, like dental tools, can be replaced with metal parts that can be easily sterilized and reused. Cloth covers for shared surfaces, like the dental chair headrest, can replace paper ones since they can be washed and used again.

Minimizing Pollution

Dental X-rays produce hazardous waste when processing X-ray film. Eco-friendly dental practices swap out traditional X-rays for digital imaging, which doesn't require film.

Dental amalgam—a mixture of metals, including liquid mercury, used to fill cavities—is another primary source of pollution. While amalgam is considered safe for use, these heavy metals enter the water system through dental procedures, making them an environmental concern. To minimize the risk of contamination, green dental practices can use alternative substances or capture amalgam waste before it has the chance to enter the water.

Traditional Dental X-Rays Produce Pollution

What Can You Do to Support Green Dentistry?

The easiest way to support environmental dentistry is to use a dentist that follows these practices. If you love your current dentist but they use more traditional procedures, you can always inquire if they offer greener options or have plans to explore them in the near future.

In addition to choosing green dental practices, you also have the power to make eco-friendly choices when it comes to your personal dental care routine. At-home dental care products, like toothpaste and toothbrushes, also significantly impact the environment. Choosing dental care products made with naturally sourced ingredients and eco-friendly packaging, like recyclable toothpaste tubes, can minimize your carbon footprint.

Want to learn more about sustainable dental care? Check out the first recyclable toothpaste tube from Tom's of Maine.

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Why It's Good

Traditional dentistry has a significant environmental impact, but simple changes can go a long way to creating a greener dental industry that supports both human health and the environment.