Part 1: Sustainable dentistry in 500 words or more
SINGAPORE: The idea of writing an article series on sustainable dentistry originated from an article titled “A guide to eco-friendly dentistry” that provided many aspects and opinions regarding sustainable dentistry, but from which it was clear that there is no real consensus or extensive framework for sustainable dentistry. This first article will briefly introduce FDI World Dental Federation’s new initiative regarding sustainable dentistry.
In March 2021, FDI published a press release regarding a new initiative to “lead the charge on sustainability in dentistry” by uniting sustainable leading dental industry partners around common future aims. FDI’s long-term aim is to create a sustainability code of practice that will offer guidelines to green practice, including procurement and the practice of dentistry.
Sustainability is a broad and complicated subject and not the area of focus of clinicians; therefore, it is of great value that FDI is mapping out future strategies and offering solutions for clinicians to implement in day-to-day practice.
The three main goals are:
- to increase awareness of the need to implement sustainable actions in the dental community;
- to develop a guide for oral health professionals to identify actions that can lead to environmentally sustainable outcomes; and
- to conduct a review of the current literature to identify the current research and guidelines and to identify any gaps in the literature regarding sustainability in dentistry.
FDI has also included four domains of dental care in its sustainability framework, and these are the heart of clinical dentistry: preventive care, operative care, integrated care and ownership of care.
Sustainable dentistry or green practice can be briefly summarised in the following way:
- Aim to procure sustainably by working with suppliers that constantly improve their sustainable work throughout their entire supply chain—including sourcing of raw materials, production, and transport of ready products.
- Practise green by doing what you do best, clinical dentistry. Preventive dentistry, together with high-quality dental care, is the most efficient way to minimise carbon dioxide emissions and waste. A series of papers by Duane showed that close to 65% of all carbon dioxide emissions were related to travel by patients and staff. A successful preventive care programme before, during and after treatment not only minimises the likelihood of disease, but also decreases the number of visits to the practice. By default, this will result in less travel, less material use, less waste production, and less carbon dioxide emissions. Preventive care does not eliminate oral disease. Patients will still have, for example, caries, periodontitis, devitalised teeth, and fractures. Working in a clean mouth gives us the opportunity to provide the highest standard of care, not only to ensure duration of the treatment outcome for as long as possible, but also to improve the quality of life for the patient. All dental work will fail, but we as a profession have the power to decide when.
- Waste management should cover all areas of the dental practice, including the reception, waiting room, sterilisation, treatment room and staff room. Examples are going paperless, recycling, and separating the normal waste from clinical waste. These are easy actions to implement, but also requires supervision and ownership by someone in the practice. Waste management is also dependent on a reliable waste management company to take care of the waste so that it enters the right facilities to continue the sustainability cycle.
FDI taking the lead on creating a manual with clear targets and action points will be a good first step and provide a code of conduct for global use and adaptation to the different environments we operate in. Over the next year, we will dive deeper into sustainability, specifically regarding procurement, green practice, and waste management, while incorporating updates from FDI and its progress.