dentist talking to child in dental chair

Efforts by oral health professionals to reduce the environmental impact of dental practices has been coined as “green dentistry” or “eco-friendly dentistry.” What is truly green and what’s just masquerading as green when it comes to dental procedures and treatments?

The newly evolving arm of green dentistry involves a dedication to sustainability. However, it is difficult for the dental field to be truly sustainable. Green dental health practitioners must take general safety precautions as usual, like changing masks and gloves for every patient and careful hand-washing. In many circumstances, materials cannot be reused – and, really, you wouldn’t want them to be.

Green dentists are implementing more sustainable practices wherever they can to minimize their environmental impact.

What Is Green Dentistry?

green dentistry diagram
Image: Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research, NCBI

Though green dentistry practices cannot be sustainable in every area, they try to make up for it with a whole-earth approach intended to reduce the environmental impact of dentistry. The basic Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle model forms the foundation for green dentistry. It shakes out to look like this:

  • Water conservation: Cleanliness is next to godliness, and dental tools need to be cleaned meticulously and mouths rinsed thoroughly. Easy actions, like turning off the tap while washing hands or giving a patient a small amount to drink instead of a full cup, help save water.
  • Energy conservation: You want your green dentist to make good use of every modern technology that promises comfort, speed, and ease in the dentist’s chair. But simple practices, like implementing motion sensors and turning off lights when not in use, can reduce energy consumption.
  • Nontoxic products: Instead of using mercury-laced amalgam fillings, green dentists opt for composite fillings, which are both safer and more natural-looking. Zirconium dental implants are an alternative to titanium dental implants and far better tolerated, particularly for patients who have metal sensitivity.
  • Waste reduction: Cloth headrest covers that are washable, reusable cups, and reusable metal suction tips are all tools that can be disinfected and reused to minimize waste. And recycling is possible for many areas of dentistry, from worn-out metal dental appliances to plastic film wrappers to magazines in the waiting room.
  • Technology implementation: There is something to be said for paper copies of files and charts, but many green dentists are converting to paper-free environments that include digitizing billing, patient data, and appointment reminders.

Eco-Friendly Dentistry Products and Procedures

Patient-centric, minimally invasive, and earth-friendly, green dentistry practices have the right idea about keeping people healthy.

  • Amalgam filling removal: There are hazardous toxins that some dental practices continue to use in their treatments – most notably, amalgam. These silver fillings contain traces of mercury which, over time, can leach into the body. Many green dentistry practices have invested in amalgam removal technology so they can extract patients’ silver fillings and properly dispose of the mercury without exposing patients to mercury vapor or particles and without negatively impacting the water supply or otherwise harming the environment in the process. (Editor’s note: As of July 14, 2020, the EPA requires all dental practices that use dental amalgam to have separators to keep this material out of wastewater.)
  • Composite tooth fillings: Composite fillings are tooth-colored, which makes them a coveted dental restoration. They’re not perfect – they’re made of a ceramic and plastic resin compound – but they are mercury-free, making them a safer tooth repair than amalgam. Dental amalgam is a combo of mercury, silver, tin, and lead, which are heavy-metal contaminants to water systems.
  • Zirconia dental implants: Zirconia is a super-hard dental biomaterial that looks completely natural, is hypoallergenic, and takes the place of titanium in dental implants for patients who do not want metal in their body. Non-metal dental implants are biocompatible for optimal integration between bone and implant and remove the risk of metal allergy or sensitivity. It is also possible to get zirconia dental crowns.
  • Dry vacuum system: Dental vacuum systems, also known as saliva ejector systems, are critical to every dental practice, but some use a tremendous amount of water. The implementation of a dry vacuum system is healthy for patients and eliminates excess water waste.

Why Patients Love Green Dentists

Patients are drawn to green dentistry practices because they also take a holistic approach to dental care. Eco-friendly dentists look at patients from a whole-body wellness standard, not just as a patient with a toothache or teeth cleaning. They want to understand the cause of an oral health problem, not just correct a toothache. Is the patient’s environment, eating habits, or exposure to certain chemicals or substances impacting their oral health?

Green dentistry is still new and it’s evolving. No one has perfected the art of environmentally friendly dentistry just yet. But plenty of oral health professionals are making the effort. And that’s a great thing.

Dentistry is a highly customized field, and you want to see a dentist who is experienced in green techniques and making every effort to green their practice. But remember that, sometimes, green alternatives are not the best choice for your specific oral health needs. Always talk to your dentist about how they take the green path, and find out what can work for you.