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Preserving teeth and conserving resources with green dentistry

When you recline in your dentist’s chair, whether the practice is environmentally sound is probably the furthest thing from your mind. But consider these facts: Every year, dental practices in the United States generate 3.7 tons of mercury waste, 1.7 billion sterilization pouches, and 28 million liters of toxic x-ray fixer. That’s some serious waste!

    The good news is that new products and technologies are emerging that allow dental practices to significantly reduce or eliminate much of that waste. For example, a typical single-dentist practice can keep 40,000 pieces of paper and 20,000 pieces of plastic from the landfill by switching from disposal patient bibs to washable bibs. Other single-use items, such as impression trays, can be replaced with stainless steel versions that can be sterilized and re-used for years. Three more ideas: X-ray developing fluids can be eliminated by switching to digital imaging equipment, steam sterilization can replace chemical sterilization, and frequently used items such as gloves and masks can be purchased in bulk to reduce packaging.

    “Technological innovation and the emergence of green dentistry are transforming the dental industry,” says Susan Beck, director of the Eco-Dentistry Association http://www.ecodentistry.org, an organization devoted to greening the dental industry. “Green dental professionals are reinforcing the industry’s move to high-tech solutions that reduce its environmental impact, such as oil-free compressors and waterless vacuum systems. They’re also demanding alternatives to the industry’s traditional ‘throw-away’ solutions, sparking the innovation of eco-friendly products such as re-usable sterilization pouches and compostable impression trays.”

    How can you tell if your dentist is green? Some signs are obvious, such as whether the hygienist pitches your bib in the trash when you’re done. Other green issues, such as the use of digital imaging equipment instead of old fashioned film x-rays, may not be obvious to you, but you can ask. The Eco-Dentistry Association offers a “green my dentist” letter that patients can customize and send to their dentists; it encourages the practice to use earth-friendly practices.

    If you’re seeking a new dentist and want to focus on green practices, you can find an Eco-Dentistry Association member by searching on the organization’s web site http://www.ecodentistry.org.

    “Dentistry is a perfect example of how small choices add up,” Beck says. “That single plastic sheet that covers the dental chair during your visit may seem nominal. But consider that it is one of 680 million disposable patient barriers dumped by US dental offices each year. The simple act of choosing an EDA Member dental professional conserves and protects your local water, eliminates a significant source of waste and pollution in our local communities, and saves energy resources globally.”


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