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What can we do to make dentistry more sustainable?

Blog Author Nicola Hawkey

Blog Date 04/06/2019


On #WorldEnvironmentDay we turn our attention to sustainability in dentistry. Globally there is a recognition that a sustainable planet is vital for our future generations and we are approaching crisis levels. 

Many countries are starting to take notice and take action. This last week saw news coverage of plastic waste being shipped back to western countries from the Philippines and Malaysia. Climate protesters have already held huge rallies and protests in central London with more to come at Heathrow airport. 

On the 8 May 2019, Britain went for a whole week - its first whole week - without burning coal to generate electricity: the first time since the nineteenth century. Climate change and environmental sustainability is on the agenda, and we should all be taking notice. 

Many of us are trying to make a difference in our homes by recycling, trying to buy products with less packaging, etc, but what can anything be done in dental practices to help make a difference?

I’ve had numerous conversations with dentists who are trying in their own small way to become greener. I have seen Facebook posts of practices asking their patients to only use a single-use plastic cup to spit if they really need to. I have had practice owners tell me they are switching to paper cups and bibs. There is an appetite out there to make changes – so we think it’s time the BDA started to focus on this as a policy area, to see what we can do to help support dental practices.

Public Health England (PHE) has found that for dentistry, the major areas of carbon emissions, starting with the highest proportion, are travel, procurement; energy, nitrous oxide, waste and water. NHS Dental services emissions made up three per cent of the overall carbon footprint of the NHS. PHE liken this to flying 50,000 times from the UK to Hong Kong. What a thought – if patients could stay closer to home and walk/cycle or use public transport to access services that would be a start. 

If we think about dental commissioning – we need a more environmentally sustainable approach to service provision, with patients travelling less miles for the treatment and preventive care they need. Sadly, this is not always the case with new services being commissioned based on economies of scale and lack of flexibility in commissioning.

The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare runs the Dental Sustainability Advisory Group and organisations across the dental profession, including us, to discuss how a difference can be made. Check out their online toolkit for dental practices.

We have also been building some resources online, you can read articles on sustainability in dentistry through a new BDJ Collection and our Library also has some excellent resources (all free for members!).

If you’d like to know more about what the BDA is doing on sustainability or if have any ideas about making our profession more sustainable, please get in touch.

Nicola Hawkey, Senior Policy Advisor

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