How Can Dentistry Stay Sustainable?

Concern for the environment has been rising. At a time when experts believe that the time to meaningfully reverse the effects of climate change is vanishing with each passing day, sustainability has become even more urgent. It’s in this context that we have to understand concerns about the enormous appetite that healthcare and dentistry have for single-use plastic. The global health crisis triggered a surge in demand for healthcare and dentistry and consequently, for single-use plastic. Single-use plastic is required for personal protective equipment (PPE) so that both staff and patients are protected within dental clinics and practices. Items such as aprons, gloves, foot coverings and masks are made from single-use plastic. Nobody can argue with the importance of using PPE, yet we cannot escape the paradox that what is good for our health and safety is also bad for the environment. The question for dentistry is, “How can dentistry stay sustainable?”

Demand is a Concern

Single-use plastic has long been used in dentistry and healthcare in order to manufacture single-use disposable devices. Data from the United Kingdom shows that its National Health Service (NHS) uses approximately 300,000 plastic cups a day. This number does not include the use of plastic cups in private healthcare and dental settings. The fight for good hygiene seems to harm the environment.

Experts believe that it may be possible to reuse some items if they can be successfully disinfected. This would reduce the appetite for single-use plastic significantly and help us get toward our sustainability goals. Dental and healthcare facilities could install industrial-grade washer-disinfectors and washing machines, which are already in place in scientific laboratories and hospitals.

Companies like Miele, the German manufacturer of high-end domestic appliances and commercial equipment,  have experienced a boom in demand for dental clinics and practices. Demand is especially high for commercial validated washing machines and dishwashers. The idea behind this demand is that dental and healthcare facilities will be able to wash and disinfect already used equipment and staff uniforms. 

Reaching Sustainability Targets

Single-use plastics have played an enormous role in the fight against Covid-19. Yet, as we strive toward our sustainability goals, it’s important to find solutions that will enable us to reduce consumption of single-use plastics. From the dental implants dentistry, to other branches of dentistry, single-use plastics have played a big role, but it’s now time to find ways to reduce consumption. 

An immediate barrier is the expenditure needed to buy a commercially validated dishwasher, tumble dryer or washing machine. In the short-term, that cost is prohibitive, but in the long-term, it will reduce demand for single-use disposable devices and prove more economical. The business case is as strong as the environmental case. 

This is an important point to make. On the face of it, it may seem as if we are asking dental practices and clinics and healthcare facilities to ignore the economics of the industry. However, over the course of a unit’s life cycle, it will prove cheaper than outsourcing laundry, or using lower-cost domestic models which would need to be replaced several times. The commercial solution is the best solution.