Sustainability Series: how can dentistry be made more sustainable?

This month we are pleased to welcome our  sustainable dental scholar Darshini Ramasubbu to the blog as she gives an overview of how dentistry can be made more sustainable. We are also excited to announce the upcoming Sustainable Dentistry Conference: Innovation and Future Proofing

'A sustainable health and care system is achieved by delivering high quality care and improved public health without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage’ (Sustainable Development Unit, 2017). The effects of climate change aren’t just limited to temperatures worldwide- the subsequent impact on health and disease is often overshadowed by its environmental consequences. The UK, including the NHS, is legally obligated to reduce its carbon footprint by 80% by 2050. This target was outlined in the Climate Change Act, 2008. In order to make this reduction a reality, measurement of emissions has become a pressing issue. A carbon footprint measures the total greenhouse gas emissions caused directly and indirectly by a person, organisation, event or product and in 2015, NHS England was responsible for the emission of 22.8 million tonnes of CO2.

Recent work by Duane (2017) has shown that NHS primary care dentistry does not have the typical carbon emission pattern classically shown in other areas of healthcare. The biggest contributors to the dental carbon footprint include staff and patient travel (over 65%), and procurement- areas that can be difficult to address and gain reduction in. If the NHS carbon reduction targets are to be achieved, it cannot continue to deliver care as it always has without change: Mortimer (2010) has described how new low-carbon models of care are needed, as is a focus on preventing illness and imparting a greater responsibility to patients in managing their health.

In terms of patient travel, adherence to the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines on Dental Recall (2004) can ensure that frequency of patient travel to dental practices is evidence based, and in line with their individual risk assessment. This is important as Duane (2017) determined that dental examinations were the biggest contributor to emissions in terms of treatment provided, at over 25%. The decentralisation of services could improve patient access, whilst reducing travel, and the advent of tele-dentistry in the future could also potentially lower this footprint.

Further research is needed regarding sustainable dentistry- but the CSH has developed some great resources you can check out below.

Making dentistry greener:

The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare seeks to empower, inspire and assist dental professionals to embed sustainable approaches in their practices and communities. Dental Susnet was created to share ideas and communicate on all aspects of sustainability in dentistry, and we would love for you to use this network as a platform to share any projects, ideas or interventions you’ve developed to make dentistry more sustainable.

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