Are we ready for green dentistry?
By: Dr. Nor Malina Manan
The global healthcare landscape, with its sprawling infrastructure and intricate procedures, is actually a substantial contributor to our planet’s carbon footprint. According to a recent study, the healthcare sector is responsible for producing 4 to 5 percent of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which include carbon dioxide, methane, and ozone, among others. Research by The Commonwealth Fund indicated that without action, it is predicted that global emissions from healthcare will reach six gigatons a year by 2050, equivalent to emissions from approximately 1.26 billion cars.
Dentistry, a significant part of the global healthcare sector, is part of this bleak picture too.
In Malaysia alone, over 10,000 dental clinics cater to the oral health needs of its populace. With such a large number, the cumulative environmental effect is far from negligible. As more clinics spring up to serve our communities, it is imperative for Malaysians to weigh in on the sustainability of these establishments and how they influence our beloved Mother Earth.
Oral healthcare, though seemingly a narrow sector in the broad spectrum of medicine, holds profound implications for sustainability. Look a little deeper into any dental procedure, and the eco-considerations become evident. The amalgam in fillings, the polymers in braces, the disinfectants used for cleaning, and the myriad disposable items like gloves, masks, and syringes—all carry significant environmental footprints.
And here is the most important part: with the modern wave of environmentalism and the ‘go green’ mantra echoing globally, Malaysia’s dental fraternity cannot afford to fall behind. The burning question remains: how can dental professionals continue to offer top-notch services while keeping Mother Earth’s health in check?
Enter green dentistry—a vision that combines top-tier oral healthcare with stringent environmental ethics. It is about ensuring our pearly whites remain in pristine condition without compromising the world’s ecological balance. The mission is twofold: employ eco-friendly procedures, and remain resolute in waste reduction.
Some examples that can be employed include, but not limited to: minimizing the use of single-use items or making the switch to biodegradable or recyclable options; utilizing dental equipment designed to minimize water waste; installing low-flow faucets and toilets in clinics; transitioning to digital radiography, which emits less radiation and eliminates the need for chemicals; prioritizing BPA-free dental sealants and composite filling materials that do not harm the environment; and purchasing dental supplies in bulk to reduce emissions during transport. In fact, even the simple act of changing the lights in dental practice rooms to energy-efficient LED ones will go a long way towards achieving this ‘green’ status.
Embracing such a comprehensive approach has a cascade of benefits, ranging from a tangible reduction in environmental harm and significant cost savings to bolstering the reputation of dental establishments. As Malaysians grow increasingly eco-conscious, dental clinics that wear their green badge proudly will undoubtedly attract more footfalls.
As we could very well be standing on the edge of this transformative era, patient awareness will play an important role. So, the next time you’re sitting in a dentist’s chair, awaiting a routine check-up or a complex procedure, it might be worth probing a bit more than just your oral health. A simple question like, “Doctor, got any green plants around here?” or “What happens to the disposable items you used in the clinic, ya?” could serve not just as an icebreaker, but also opening the doors to insightful discussions on sustainability.
It is more than just casual banter—it symbolizes a collective aspiration for a healthier future Malaysia, through our ‘greener’ smiles.
The author is a Dental Lecturer at the Faculty of Dentistry, Universiti Malaya, and may be reached at [email protected]