Going “green”

March 1, 2009
We are familiar with ways to conserve natural resources, particularly at home.

by Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD, FICD

For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: natural resources, eco-friendly, going green, energy efficiency, digital, Dr. Jeff Dalin.

We are familiar with ways to conserve natural resources, particularly at home. Have you ever thought about ways to do this at your office? We generate much waste in dental offices daily. Everything from gauze to chair covers to headrest covers to amalgam to X-ray development chemicals … end up in landfills and water supplies. We must reduce waste and the use of toxic chemicals.

Let's look at ways we can change to help protect the environment. One of the best ways to do this is by converting offices to digital radiography. Surveys show that only 40% of dental offices have become digital. We could increase this to 100% if everyone made an effort to change.

By doing this, we would no longer generate paper, plastic, or lead waste by discarding empty film packets. Think about how many of these get thrown away on a daily, weekly, monthly, or annual basis. This just takes into account the solid waste generated by conventional radiography.

Once your office has converted to digital, you will no longer be dumping developer and fixer into drains and water supplies. Digital images also require 75% to 90% less radiation than conventional images. This technology is a win-win for practices, patients, and the environment.

Once you have “greened up” the darkroom, you can move to the front desk. The simplest way to go green here is to recycle paper waste. I think you will be shocked at how much paper you discard each day. At my office, we even go a step further. We shred paper waste and donate the shredded pieces to area animal shelters for use in their animal pens.

Next, convert your office to chartless or paperless by utilizing practice-management software. Most software (e.g., Dentrix, PracticeWorks, Softdent, EagleSoft) are set up so you can do just about everything via computer. Also consider recycling your ink jet and laser cartridges.

Another way to help is to use recycled paper and envelopes. Consider sending text and communications via e-mail instead of sending postcards and statements through the mail. In the September issue of DE, I discussed several companies (Smile Reminder, Demandforce, Lighthouse PLZ, DentiGram, and Dental Senders) with products that will do this for you. This is yet another way to reduce paper use.

Regarding operatories, I understand that much of what we do is based on infectious waste guidelines, but there are a few areas to consider. For instance, instead of paper headrest covers and patient bibs, you can choose cloth fabric. These items do require that you launder them, so make sure you use environmentally friendly machines and detergents. Steam sterilizers are better for the environment since they do not utilize toxic chemicals. Consider low-flow water fixtures and sensor-operated faucets to conserve water.

Around the office, you can make some worthwhile changes such as using energy-efficient fluorescent lights. You can also install automated thermostats to control the temperature of the office while you are working, as well as when you are gone. You can install a trash compactor to reduce the amount of trash taken to the dumpster. Amalgam separators need to be installed so that amalgam waste is trapped and disposed of in a proper and eco-friendly manner. Nonbleach line cleaners can be used because they reduce hazardous chemicals and are noncorrosive.

Dental suppliers such as Henry Schein, Patterson, and Benco offer “green” lines of products. Henry Schein Global Reflections is a 16-page booklet of eco-friendly products. Going green makes good economic sense. You can gain local, state, and national tax incentives for earning LEED certification. You also will show current and prospective patients that you are community-minded. Finally, this approach is great for staff morale. Everyone loves working together to benefit the environment.

Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD, FICD, practices general dentistry in St. Louis. He is the editor of St. Louis Dentistry magazine, and spokesman and critical-issue-response-team chairman for the Greater St. Louis Dental Society. Contact him at [email protected].

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