It’s more important for dental practices to start on their eco journey than to try to achieve perfection, says Davinder Raju, The Eco Dentist.

Attending the GSK-sponsored sustainable dentistry meeting at the BDIA in March was great.

Ben Atkins enthusiastically hosted it. And the panel of contributors included Amy Reilly from the Clyde Munroe Group, who have begun to implement environmentally friendly changes throughout their practices.

As an environmentally-friendly dentist and a busy private dental practice owner, it was great to see that other practices were implementing the same eco-friendly changes we are already adopting.

It was then suggested that I write about implementing sustainable dentistry within our independent practice to encourage other practice owners to do the same. After all, it’s a complex area, and it is challenging to get started.

Some eco tips

When we were setting up the practice in 2017, we explored the environmental impacts of delivering dentistry.

Then we tried to mitigate those impacts and possibly create one of the country’s first ‘eco-friendly’ dental practices.

Now, to help sow the seeds of what can be achieved (should you choose to reduce your practice’s environmental footprints), I’m going to share some of the dental practice’s building specifications:

  • On-site energy generation via 34 photovoltaic solar panels

  • Heating via far-infrared heating panels

  • Flooring made from recycled plastic

  • Eco-friendly hand dryers fitted

  • Used equipment installed wherever possible.

Additionally, we reduced our impacts further at the practising level by:

  • Opting to abolish amalgam as a restorative material

  • Creating and adhering to policies that focus on reducing, reusing and recycling in all avenues of practice

  • Sourcing products that have reduced ecological impacts.

So, for example, in the surgery, we use:

  • Autoclavable aspirator tips

  • Autoclavable dappens pots

  • A digital intraoral scanner

  • Autoclavable three-in-one tips

  • Autoclavable metal impression trays

  • Paper cups

  • Environmentally-friendly hypochlorous acid as a disinfectant

  • Plant-based cleaning products.

Sustainability isn’t straightforward

Because I’m a practising dentist who wants to raise awareness of and suggest solutions to help reduce the ecological impacts of dentistry, I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to write about this critical topic in Dentistry.

But, as ‘The Eco-Dentist’ I have a confession: I’m not perfect.

And on top of that, although I own an eco-friendly dental practice, there’s always going to be room for improvement. So my eco-dental practice isn’t perfect either.

And that’s because our planet is a beautiful mix of complex systems. There are many variables at play. The more you look, the more you will find other variables.

So, unfortunately,  sustainability isn’t always straightforward. And it certainly isn’t simply a choice between black and white.

Yet, despite this, we know that we need to incorporate sustainability objectives into our business strategy. And then we start taking our first steps on the greener pathway.

But, even taking the first steps are the most difficult in fear of getting it wrong.

‘Recovering perfectionists’

Many in our profession are used to looking at teeth, and even at life through the lens of a microscope, studying every detail before making a decision.

This tendency, I believe, veers us towards trying to attain perfection.

As a recovering perfectionist myself, I often recognise the trait within others. They query and then get stuck in the minutiae of any aspect of sustainability. This results in frustration and, ultimately, a failure to implement any changes. Paralysis ensues.

Instead, let’s aim for setting the bar high enough to make meaningful changes toward sustainability. Not striving for perfection.

It’s about setting high enough standards, while at the same time accepting and not beating yourself for not being perfect while practising dentistry within the constraints of reality.

We need to accept that sustainability is complicated, but that it can still be embraced. Even within real life and practice constraints.

On the flip side, don’t set the bar too low and then boast about your green activities. This isn’t taking sustainability seriously and patients may see this as greenwashing.

Take your first eco step

So it may help to let my colleagues know, should they stumble at the first hurdle, that I now think of my sustainability ideal as a guiding star.

Of course, I know that I will never reach it. Still, I use the guiding star as a navigational tool. It helps us steer on how we as a practice can deliver dentistry most sustainably with the information we currently have.

I accept the reality of real-life practice, and I do my best. But I am open to learning while trying a solution. As new evidence emerges, I am open to adjusting my practices.

As Lao Tzu says: ‘The journey of 1,000 miles starts with the first step.’ Everything, whether easy or difficult, begins with that first step.

Remember, you won’t be the world’s first perfect human being.

So, when will you take your first steps toward delivering sustainable dentistry?