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Smile Big, Smile Green: Eco-dentistry

Dawna Matthews:

Environmentally friendly goods and services are present in so many parts of our everyday life. These green companies offer goods and services or follow policies that reduce their impact on the earth, or have little to no harm to the environment. Take a look around and see all the many varied eco-friendly products and services.

Available are eco-friendly clothing, recycling, earth friendly foods, fair trade, and so much more. One service I eco dentisthave recently discovered is eco-friendly dentistry. Eco-dentistry features green practices to reduce negative effects on the environment.

Many of us visit the dentist only a few times a year and may not even consider the impact this service has on the environment. Think about your last dentist visit. Each dental procedure generally requires lots of water, x-rays, sterilization, and infection control. These four components can be major sources of waste, and have harmful environmental effects such as pollution. In 2009, The Eco-Dentistry Association defined green dentistry as a practice that

• reduces waste and pollution,

• saves energy, water, and money,

• incorporates high tech innovations and

• supports a wellness lifestyle.

Here are some ways The Eco-Dentistry Association is transforming the world of dentists while simultaneously doing its part for the environment:

Waste and Pollution Reduction: Green dentists are thinking more about reducing trash and waste. Some of the ways they are doing that include purchasing frequently used items in bulk, replacing chemical sterilization with steam sterilization, and installing an amalgam separator. By using steam sterilization, chemicals do not linger in the air and cause harm to employees or patients. The EPA estimates that 50% of all mercury entering our local wastewater treatment facilities originates in dental offices. Using an amalgam separator keeps mercury contained in fillings (for cavities)  from entering our water supply. A serious environmental and human health concern, mercury in our drinking, irrigation, and fishing waters can lead to poisoning of animal species and debilitating health in humans.  I had never really thought about this – and now that I am aware, there is no way I want to drink mercury.

Picture found at http://www.ecodentistry.org
Picture found at http://www.ecodentistry.org

Reuse of Materials: Single use infection control items are the biggest source of trash in a dental office. Examples of a single use item are plastic head rest covers, paper or plastic pouches for sterilization, or plastic tray covers. Most of this plastic waste can be replaced by reusable cloth sterilization items. Examples of these are cloth lab coats instead of plastic, cloth sterilization covers for patients, and glass or ceramic rinse cups. The possibilities are endless! When one office switches to reusable items, it can divert as many as 4600 paper and plastic bags from ending up in the landfill. And that is a good thing.

Use of High Tech Innovations and Recycling: Part of the green dentists’ mission is to incorporate technology that helps reduce waste as well as eliminate toxins in the environment. Digital imaging for x-rays is one technological advancement that is easiest to implement. It is wonderful for so many reasons. First and foremost, there is less exposure to radiation. Additionally, you as a patient receive the results immediately. Using digital imaging eliminates toxic chemical waste created by traditional x-ray imaging and reduces exposure to lead. “Green dentists” participate in conventional recycling such as office paper waste, and they also use an instrument recycling program that turns unused tools into industrial metal or recycles them into building materials. This program repurposes materials instead of adding them to the pile at the landfill.

Health and Wellness Support: The Eco-Dentistry Association makes overall wellness a priority by changing the role of the dentist from that of a “tooth doctor” to a health educator and leader in their area of expertise. It is the hope of The Eco-dentistry Association that dentists with this certification will share research and information about the relationship of periodontal disease to diabetes, heart disease and other chronic illnesses with their patients.

Eco-friendly dentists are concerned not only with the health of their patients’ teeth and gums, but also with their overall well-being. For example, many people are afraid to visit the dentist. Now, several eco-dentists offer aromatherapy and essential oils to help instill calmness in patients and aid in relaxation. Additionally, green dentists tend to recommend products which are not full of chemicals such as titanium dioxide (which is found in wall paint) or alcohol.

I hadn’t really thought about eco-dentistry and its relationship to the environment. Now that I am aware of how this industry’s waste is intrinsically linked to the earth, I am looking for a dentist who shares my concern for the environment as well as my health and well-being. That’s something to smile about!

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About Dawna Matthews

Dawna is a yoga teacher, writer, domestic goddess, and lover of life. She tries to celebrate all the joys given to us in this world by dancing, singing, cooking, and gazing up at the sky. Dawna believes green living is a way of coming back to the self- a simple yet deeply satisfying dance of gratitude to mother earth and each one of us. She lives in Colorado where the mountains are a perfect backdrop to each day. She twirls daily.

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