Over the past few decades, dentistry has encountered numerous changes from technological advances to new treatments option for patients. Looking forward though, the rise of another movement could possibly lay ahead—eco-dentistry.
Eco-dentistry or “Green Dentistry,” as defined by the national Eco-Dentistry Association, refers to a high-tech approach that reduces the environmental impact of practices and maintains wellness for the patients and practitioners.
This new approach has reaped various benefits for practicing dentists. Dr. Ina Pockrass, JD, the co-founder of the Eco-Dentistry Association (which she created with her husband, Dr. Fred Pockrass in 2008), notes the cost-effectiveness of sustainable dental offices: “Way back in 2007, we hired an outside consulting firm Natural Logic. They looked at earth friendly eco-initiatives in 14 offices and saw if they cost more or cost less and if they gave a return on investment.” It turned out that the eco-initiatives actually reduced expenses and improved the practices’ bottom lines by as much as $50,000 a year.
Furthermore, eco-dentistry has increased some practices’ marketability to patients and the community. Dr. Joseph Manzi, DDS, a general and restorative dentist with a certified green dental practice in Eastchester, New York, elaborates, “There are a number of patients who are really appreciating what we are doing. Now, people are becoming more aware of the environment and ecology. Dentists being on the forefront gives a good impression and impact on the neighborhood. Our staff also sees that we are doing something differently and they appreciate it and become part of it.”
Eco-dentistry can also come in a variety of forms from small to large changes in the office. Small changes may entail implementing a structured waste disposal and recycling system in the office, as James Kuester, the founder of Küster Dental Office Design (an interior design firm that specializes in eco-friendly offices) suggests. Using cloth bibs instead of plastic bibs and having a bike rack for patients, as Dr. Manzi implements in his Eastchester office, are other simple eco-initiatives. Furthermore, with new advances, the high-tech options within eco-dentistry are more diverse than ever before. For instance, according to Kuester, though the front end may be higher, LED lighting offers 50,000+ hours, and the price difference between standard fluorescent lighting and LED lighting shrinks each year. Additionally, digital X-rays and steam sterilization can provide greener and safer alternatives to conventional X-rays and chemical-based sterilization.
Despite the many benefits offered by an eco-friendly approach, dentistry as a whole has been slow to catch on to the trend. Dr. Pockrass states, “It’s still a work in progress and I think that dentists in general are slow to adopt change. There is a lot of pressure in dentist’s clinic.” High costs may also be a deterrent for some dentists. Kueller comments on a common misconception, “There’s word out there that green costs more. However, being green doesn’t cost more necessarily. If the design is right, we can avoid premiums in building.” Meanwhile, as Dr. Manzi speculates, dentists may just like to stick to old habits, as eco-dentistry was not taught in school to many professionals.
Perhaps though, the future of eco-dentistry will ultimately rest in the hands of dental students and younger dental professionals. Dr. Pockrass comments, “Students who are considering going into dentistry or recent graduates from up to five years ago will drive this transformation in dentistry. The last thing they would want is conventional x-rays and paper files. They will want to surround themselves in a high-tech office because that is how they normally run.”
Despite the many developments that may still continue to shape eco-dentistry in the future, there are currently already many ways to be involved and get educated on the topic right now. As an educational organization, the Eco-Dentistry Association offers membership for interested dentists and dental students, provides a network for dentists who practice green dentistry and holds various educational programs online and in person. The association also provides official certification for green dental clinics.
Reflecting on the importance of ecodentistry, Dr. Manzi states, “We want to be leaders in our community. This is a great show we are getting involved in that a lot of people have concerns about, and we are truly on the forefront of this movement.”
To learn more about eco-dentistry, visit http://www.ecodentistry.org/.
Emma Cheng, predental
About Emma Cheng
Emma Cheng is a student at Columbia University majoring in Sociology and pursuing predental studies. Since freshman year, she has been an active member and leader of her school's predental club and is currently serving as her club's President for the 2014-2015 year. In addition to shadowing and learning more about dentistry, she is actively involved in various campus activities and in community service initiatives in her home city New York. In the future, she hopes to pursue a dual degree in public health in dental school and plans to be involved with outreach to underserved neighborhoods.