Interview with Peter Suresh on sustainability in dentistry

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Eco-friendly dentistry: “The best time to start was yesterday. The next best time is now.”

Sustainability is a recurring topic in dentistry as the dental industry seeks to minimise its environmental impact while maintaining high standards of patient care. (Image: SARYMSAKOV ANDREY/Shutterstock)

Procurement, waste generation and water management are three major categories where dental practices could potentially become more sustainable. This is in line with a new study that assessed the effectiveness of changes suggested by the Royal College of General Practitioners’ Green Impact for Health Toolkit, which aims to help dental practices become more eco-friendly and reduce their carbon footprint. Dental Tribune International discussed the topic further with lead author Peter Suresh, an undergraduate student in dental science at Dublin Dental University Hospital in Ireland.

Lead author Peter Suresh. (Image: Peter Suresh)

Mr Suresh, how important is sustainability in dentistry? Have you noticed a shift in dental professionals’ awareness of sustainable practice in recent years?
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges faced by our generation, and I think that sustainability has never been more important. The impact of carbon emissions and pollution on climate change has been well explored, and it has been established in the literature that dentistry has a significant carbon footprint.

With so much coverage of climate change in the media in recent times, people around the world, including dentists, are becoming more aware of their carbon footprint and more conscious of making small changes to their everyday activities in order to become more sustainable. The tide is turning, and there is an increased emphasis on meeting the dental treatment needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet these needs.

What are some of the most important findings of your recent study?
There is a long list of small changes that can be easily implemented in dental practices across the globe in order to reduce the carbon footprint of dental care. If dental professionals want to make an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, this study provides research evidence behind the recommendations made by the Green Impact Toolkit and will guide them in their decision-making so that they can make the most appropriate and effective changes for greater sustainability in procurement, waste and water in the dental practice.

Based on the findings, what simple steps could dentists take to make their dental practices more sustainable?
Making simple changes such as emailing appointment notices and referral letters as opposed to using traditional physical post, photocopying on both sides of paper instead of on one side, saving and reusing scrap paper, shredding only confidential documents, and using and reusing envelopes without plastic windows can reduce the carbon impact associated with paper usage per patient. Additionally, using water harvested from a rainwater collection tank, having dual-flush toilets and washing dishes with running water in the staff canteen, as opposed to using a dishwasher or filled sink, can reduce the carbon impact of water usage in a practice. Additionally, recycling used toothbrushes and adopting reusable metal tips instead of single-use disposable plastic tips in a three-in-one air–water syringe can save carbon emissions associated with waste.

“Prevention of diseases of the oral cavity is the most sustainable way for dentistry to progress in the future.

In your opinion, what is the greatest obstacle to sustainability in dentistry?
Prevention of diseases of the oral cavity is the most sustainable way for dentistry to progress in the future. I believe that the biggest obstacle faced by sustainability in dentistry is the need for dentists to treat diseases of the oral cavity rather than preventing them from occurring in the first place. More-complex treatment of diseases of greater severity involves more appointments, time and resources, thus increasing the carbon footprint associated with patient care. A preventive approach to care is of paramount importance and will eliminate the need for the treatment of oral disease in patients, reducing carbon footprint and improving the quality of life of all patients.

Would you like to add anything else?
When it comes to dental practices delivering care more sustainably, the best time to start was yesterday. The next best time is now.

Editorial note:

The study, titled “A life cycle analysis of the environmental impact of procurement, waste and water in the dental practice”, was published online on 12 April 2024 in the British Dental Journal. More information about the Green Impact Toolkit can be found here.

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