CHALLENGES IN IMPLEMENTING SUSTAINABLE DENTISTRY
There's growing awareness of sustainable healthcare, but what barriers hinder its adoption in primary care?
Healthcare is an essential service, and like most human activities, it significantly impacts the environment. For example, the National Health Service (NHS) of the United Kingdom has the most significant carbon footprint among all public sectors in the country. Moreover, the healthcare sector contributes to approximately 4.4% of global emissions worldwide. These staggering statistics highlight the pressing need for healthcare services to embrace sustainability as a core responsibility. In recognition of this urgency, 52 countries have committed to developing lean, low-carbon, and climate-resilient healthcare services during the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).
This blog explores some of the key challenges faced in adopting sustainable practices within the healthcare industry, focusing on sustainable dentistry.
1. Lack of Awareness of Sustainable Dentistry
One major hurdle in implementing sustainable healthcare practices is the need for more awareness among healthcare providers and the general public. Many dental professionals may need to become more familiar with the benefits of sustainable practices or may be unaware of how to incorporate them into their daily operations effectively. This lack of awareness hampers the widespread adoption of sustainable dental practices and necessitates concerted efforts to educate and raise awareness among dental professionals and the public.
Sustainable dentistry encompasses a range of initiatives, such as prevention, providing high-quality, effective, minimally invasive contemporary treatments, reducing water and energy consumption, minimising waste generation, implementing eco-friendly products and technologies in dental practices, and promoting environmentally friendly oral healthcare products to our patients. These practices not only contribute to environmental sustainability but also have tangible benefits for dental practices, including cost savings, improved patient outcomes, and enhanced reputation.
2. Resistance to Change and Embracing Sustainable Dentistry
The dental industry, like healthcare in general, often needs help with resistance to change, which poses a significant challenge to implementing sustainable practices. Embracing sustainable dentistry initiatives requires modifying established practices and procedures, which can meet with resistance from dental staff members and other stakeholders. Dental practices must address this resistance through the effective change of mindsets, management strategies, stakeholder engagement, and clear communication about the benefits of sustainable practices. Creating a culture that embraces innovation and sustainability is crucial for overcoming this challenge.
Education and training on the importance of sustainable dentistry and its potential positive impacts can help alleviate resistance and foster a sense of ownership among the oral healthcare team members. Incorporating sustainable healthcare into the undergraduate dental curricula and involving key stakeholders, such as dental associations and regulatory bodies, will also increase buy-in and facilitate smoother implementation.
3. Cost of Implementing Sustainable Dentistry
Cost is another critical challenge in implementing sustainable dentistry. While these sustainability practices are beneficial in the long run, they often involve increased upfront costs. For instance, investing in energy-efficient equipment, implementing digital intra-oral scanning systems to reduce material waste or incorporating environmentally friendly autoclavable equipment requires substantial financial resources. Dental practices must find ways to balance the short-term costs with the long-term benefits of sustainability.
To address the cost challenge, dental practices can explore various strategies. This may include conducting a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis to quantify the potential savings and return on investment associated with sustainable practices. It is essential to consider direct cost savings, such as reduced material bills, reduced energy and resource costs or waste disposal costs, and indirect benefits, such as improved patient satisfaction and operational efficiency.
Additionally, customers are increasingly willing to pay a higher price for services and products from companies known for being environmentally responsible. When businesses prioritise sustainability and demonstrate their environmental commitment, customers perceive them as reputable and trustworthy. As a result, customers are more willing to invest their money in these environmentally-responsible companies.
Therefore, the return on investment (ROI) for sustainable practices could be realised sooner.
4. Lack of Clear Guidelines to Implement Sustainable Dentistry
The absence of clear guidelines and standards for sustainable dentistry from our regulatory bodies poses a significant obstacle to implementation. Without established frameworks, clinicians and practice owners may struggle to know where to begin and how to measure progress effectively. Developing comprehensive guidelines addressing various aspects of sustainable dentistry, including the ubiquitous use of single-use plastic devices, waste management, etc., is crucial for facilitating the widespread adoption of sustainable practices.
Dental associations and regulatory bodies are crucial in establishing clear and standardised guidelines for sustainable dentistry. These guidelines should provide the dental profession with practical recommendations based on concrete data and evidence, not theoretical risk based on theoretical models, assumptions, or predictions. Additionally, dental practices can collaborate with sustainability-focused organisations, participate in industry initiatives, and share best practices to foster a culture of sustainability and contribute to developing guidelines.
5. Lack of Education and Training in Sustainable Dentistry
A lack of education and training on sustainable dentistry further hampers implementation efforts. Dental professionals often receive limited or no formal education on sustainable practices during their training. Incorporating sustainable dentistry concepts into dental curricula and providing ongoing training opportunities can empower dental professionals with the knowledge and skills needed to implement sustainable initiatives effectively.
Dental educational institutions should integrate sustainability principles and practices into their curricula, ensuring that future dental professionals have the necessary knowledge and competencies. In fact,
oral healthcare professionals in training hold a unique and advantageous position to receive education on sustainable healthcare that is pertinent to the well-being of present and future generations. Continuing education programs, webinars, and conferences can provide existing dental professionals opportunities to enhance their understanding of sustainable dentistry and learn from other healthcare professionals. Larger organisations such as dental corporates can encourage dental staff members to pursue certifications and credentials in sustainability to demonstrate their commitment and expertise in this field.
6. Lack of Time to Devote to Implementing Greener Dentistry
Implementing greener dentistry can require additional resources, such as staff time, which may be limited in some dental environments. This may delay progress and hinder the successful adoption of sustainable practices. Dental practices should therefore consider leveraging partnerships with external organisations to overcome these challenges.
Resource allocation strategies should involve identifying and prioritising key areas where sustainable practices can have the most significant impact. This includes conducting a thorough assessment to determine their baseline, areas of improvement and develop an action plan with measurable goals and timelines. Appointing a Sustainability Campion that can collaborate with sustainability-focused organisations can help alleviate some of these time constraints and facilitate the implementation of sustainable dentistry.
Implementing sustainable healthcare practices, including sustainable dentistry, ensures a healthier environment, improves patient outcomes, and reduces costs in the long run. However, several challenges must be addressed for effective implementation. These challenges include a lack of awareness, resistance to change, cost considerations, lack of clear guidelines, insufficient education and training, and limited resources. But, by actively addressing these challenges, dental practices can drive sustainable change, improve environmental and oral health, and thrive in a greener future.
Implementing sustainable dentistry requires a multidimensional approach that involves education, stakeholder engagement, policy development, and resource allocation. Collaboration among dental associations, regulatory bodies, policymakers, sustainability-focused organisations, and dental practices is crucial for overcoming these challenges and fostering a sustainable dental care ecosystem. By embracing sustainable practices, dental professionals can make a significant positive impact on both oral health and the environment.
Implementing sustainable healthcare, including sustainable dentistry, is essential for creating a healthier environment, improving patient outcomes, and reducing costs in the long run. However, this endeavour has its share of challenges to address for effective implementation. These challenges encompass a lack of awareness, resistance to change, cost considerations, lack of clear guidelines, insufficient education and training, and limited resources. Therefore, a multidimensional approach involving education, stakeholder engagement, policy development, and appropriate resource allocation is required. Collaboration between the dental profession and regulatory bodies, policymakers and sustainability-focused organisations is crucial in overcoming these challenges and fostering a sustainable dental care ecosystem.
By actively tackling these obstacles, dental practices can drive sustainable change, promote environmental and oral health, and thrive in a greener future.