Changes that help dentistry preserve the environment
by Rodney Hanoon
Is your practice green? What may have once been a simple question now opens the door to a much larger conversation within the dental industry: Are there simple, cost-effective steps that practices can take to truly have an impact on the environment?
The answer is yes. But, you may be surprised at just how large your impact on the environment can be, and how simple the steps are for reducing your eco-footprint.
As cofounder of PureLife Dental, a dental supply company that focuses on helping practices improve their effect on the environment, I have seen these simple changes work from all standpoints: increasing business, lowering operating expenses, and reducing environmental impacts.
According to Gail Savina's recent study, "Mercury in Waste Dental Amalgam: Why Is It Still a Problem?" dentists in the United States account for an estimated 51 tons of mercury each year.1 This means that dental offices pollute local wastewaters at the rate of approximately 1.2 tons of mercury per week.
Mercury enters the environment primarily through dental amalgam waste. Once amalgam is captured from spent capsules, bulk amalgam, or dental fillings, it is often handled as trash and makes its way into landfills or is incinerated. Disposing of amalgam in this way releases mercury into the atmosphere and groundwater.
Once mercury enters the environment, it is converted into a highly toxic material called methylmercury. Methylmercury then increases in concentration and is absorbed by underwater organisms such as fish. Eventually, that same methylmercury ends up on our plate when we enjoy a fish dinner.
The harmful effects of methylmercury on the human body are well known, and range from hearing and speech impairment to deterioration of the nervous system. In fact, pregnant women are advised to avoid certain kinds of fish altogether, due to the high concentrations of methylmercury they contain. Bottom line, methylmercury is something that negatively affects the entire ecosystem – from the wild salmon swimming upstream to your family enjoying grilled salmon on a summer afternoon.
Mercury pollution has been singled out as the largest environmental problem facing the dental industry today, and pollution from dental amalgam has been regulated in several states. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just announced that it will begin to strictly regulate mercury pollution from dental offices nationwide, with more details to come shortly.
What's in it for you?
As much as everyone in the office may enjoy the feel-good benefits of going green, the dentist's main concern is probably one thing – the bottom line. How can going green increase the practice's business and attract new customers? And, what do employees enjoy about working for a green business? Let's take a look.
According to a Tandberg survey that identified the impact of environmental behavior on brand value,2 42% of consumers prefer purchasing products and services from a company with a strong environmental reputation. In addition, 80% of employees surveyed stated that they would prefer to work for an environmentally ethical organization.
Recommend that the dentist take the initiative to practice better environmental management now. Look for external certifications to provide credibility for your efforts. For example, at PureLife Dental, we offer dental practices a free certification program that demonstrates to potential and existing patients, as well as employees, that your practice is doing its best to minimize its impact on the environment.
Although mercury waste should be a top concern for any practice, the costs involved with managing it properly can turn some dentists off. To help dentists move toward a green practice, PureLife absorbs much of the costs for amalgam separators and waste services, as part of our environmental commitment. Since these types of incentives are available in the marketplace, it helps in moving past the common misconception going green costs too much.
As one of our customers, Dr. Ivan Vazquez of Hauppauge, NY, attests, "As a healthcare provider, protecting the environment is important to me. PureLife makes it affordable."
With EPA regulations on the horizon, recommending these changes to improve your impact on the environment is now more important – and cost effective – than ever.
If you haven't begun spreading the word about changes that your practice can make to meet these new regulations and go green, or if you need information about the next steps, please visit www.PureLifeEco.com to learn more about simple, cost-effective products and services that can help your practice reap all the benefits of going green.
Rodney Hanoon is the CEO of PureLife Dental, an Inglewood, CA, based dental supplier. Visit www.purelifeeco.com for more information about the company.
Savina, Gail. " Mercury in Waste Dental Amalgam: Why is it still a problem?" Local Hazardous Waste Program, King County, WA (December 2003), 7.
"Corporate Environmental Behavior and the Impact on Brand Values," TANDBERG, 2007.
What can you do?
It may come as a shock that dental offices can easily eliminate 99% of mercury waste themselves in just four steps. I urge you to cut out this section and display it for all employees to read.
- Capture and recycle – Dentists can collect and store all contact and noncontact scrap amalgam for recycling. This waste must be sent to an approved recycler that is able to reprocess the mercury. It is important to note that not all recyclers can handle mercury waste, but you can visit the American Dental Association's Web site to learn more about approved recyclers (www.ada.org/sections/professionalResources/pdfs/topics_amalrecyclers.pdf).
- Install an amalgam separator – An amalgam separator is your single most effective tool in collecting mercury, capturing 98% of all waste. According to the ADA, 25% of amalgam waste is still transmitted into the environment after using chairside traps and other methods of capturing the waste. An amalgam separator is the most reliable method for keeping this mercury from entering the environment.
- Switch to composites – A reliable way of reducing mercury waste is to make the switch from mercury amalgam to nonmercury alternatives such as composites, gold, or ceramics. While this can be a more challenging shift due to cost limitations and quality assurance, it represents a significant step toward reducing an office's mercury pollution.
- Make the small changes – There are a number of small changes in how you operate every day that can significantly improve your environmental footprint, including:
◊ Changing chairside amalgam traps as often as necessary
◊ Flushing the vacuum system with disinfecting line solution before changing the chairside trap
◊ Replacing vacuum pump filters regularly, as recommended by the equipment manufacturer
◊ Changing and recycling amalgam separators' spent canisters according to the manufacturer's suggestions.
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