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Gain Green Benefits

High-tech dentistry offers environmental advantages in addition to time and cost savings.

As environmentalism grows, the trend for dental practices to “go green” is gaining popularity. What oral health professionals may not realize is that high-tech innovations in the dental practice offer environmental benefits, as well. Green dentistry “reduces the environmental impact of dental practices and encompasses a service model for dentistry that supports and maintains wellness,” according to the Eco-Dentistry Association (EDA).1 The following tenets create the framework for sustainable, ecofriendly dental hygiene and dentistry practices. Green dentistry:

  1. Reduces waste and pollution
  2. Saves water, energy, and money
  3. Is high-tech
  4. Supports a wellness lifestyle focused on prevention, early detection, and less invasive treatments

HIGH-TECH INNOVATION

The high-tech label refers to technology that involves highly advanced or specialized systems or devices. Incorporating technology into dental practice has many advantages, including time and cost savings, ergonomic benefits for clinicians, and improved efficiencies and outcomes.

Most high-tech advances in dentistry offer at least one environmental benefit—from reducing waste to supporting a wellness lifestyle. The move from film-based radiography to digital imaging eliminates the need for radiographic dental film, which is encased in nonrecyclable plastic containing toxic lead foils and radiographic chemical developer made with the hazardous chemical hydroquinone, both of which require hazardous waste disposal. The amount of radiation exposure is reduced, and the diagnostic quality of images is enhanced.1

Intraoral cameras facilitate improved record keeping, patient education, and supportive diagnostics. This tool, which does not create waste, can help clinicians better assess the oral health status of patients.

Dentistry has been transformed by computer-aided design (CAD)/computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) systems and digital impression systems. These tools, in addition to other laboratory components have enabled some practices to reduce or eliminate the need for impression materials, such as alginate or polyvinylsiloxane; plastic or metal impression trays and bite registrations manufactured from plastic; chemicals necessary to disinfect impressions; study model plaster or stone; and cardboard box storage for fabricated models. The ability to provide some lab services in the office also eliminates the need for patients to return to the practice to complete the restoration, as well as the transfer of models from the lab to the practice, reducing resultant greenhouse gas emissions caused by transportation.

Electronic health records (EHR) increase practice efficiency, save time and money, reduce paper waste, eliminate storage requirements, minimize the need for manual updating, and improve accuracy. Due to the improved documentation of patient health achieved by EHR, the risk of clinician error may also decrease, possibly improving outcomes.

Laser technology is used for disease diagnosis, as well as soft- and hard-tissue procedures. It is minimally invasive and nonpolluting, creates little waste, and is highly effective in dental treatment.

The use of steam sterilization and forced-air dry heat sterilization reduces or eliminates toxic chemical vapors and the creation of hazardous waste. These sterilization systems also offer more eco-friendly options for instrument organization, such as reusable sterilization cassettes and surgical cloth wraps. The technique eliminates the use of toxic chemicals required in other sterilization methods and may sterilize instruments more quickly than other methods.

DIAGNOSTICS

High-tech diagnostics are another component of green dentistry, as they support early detection of disease, which may reduce the need for invasive and expensive treatments. Caries-detection technologies are adjunctive intraoral screening devices designed to provide early detection and visualization of hard tissue abnormalities. These tools may support minimally invasive treatment, facilitating the wellness lifestyle that is a key part of green dentistry.

Diagnostic testing, such as salivary diagnostics and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) DNA testing, offers both clinical and wellness/lifestyle benefits. These tests are designed to increase the likelihood of early detection and the use of minimally invasive treatment. In dentistry, PCR DNA technology is used as a clinical laboratory test, risk assessment tool, and diagnostic aid in oral-systemic health assessment. It may help to identify potential oral infectious agents and is designed to differentiate between pathogenic and nonpathogenic risks by correlating host immune responses identified by human genetic variables.

Adding high-tech, clinical laboratory diagnostic testing to new patient intakes, dental/medical records, risk assessment, differential diagnosis, and outcome prognosis may help support a wellness lifestyle for patients. For example, a 2010 study looked at the relationship between 11 bacteria species and hypertension to investigate the theory that chronic infections, including periodontitis, may increase the risk for cardiovascular diseases.2 The study results found that higher levels of subgingival periodontal bacteria corresponded to an increased prevalence of hypertension.2 The use of diagnostic testing in the dental office may help detect health problems in their earliest stages before invasive, expensive treatment is needed, and when the possibility of positive outcomes is highest—especially for at-risk populations such as pregnant women. Fusobacterium nucleatum is a periodontal pathogen commonly found in the oral cavity and may also be associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes.3 If research shows that F. nucleatum can cross placental barriers, then this type of high-tech, clinical laboratory testing in the dental office may be a helpful addition to prenatal screening.

CONCLUSION

Developing a green dental practice can begin with a few simple steps, from instituting in-office recycling to turning off equipment at the end of the day. The EDA provides a variety of resources at?ecodentistry.org to help dental offices go green. The organization also collaborates with dental manufacturers by identifying green products for environmentally conscious dental practitioners. Many high-tech products used by dental hygienists, such as salivary diagnostics, have earned the EDA Seal for Environmentally Friendly Products. The same health-conscious consumers who appreciate clean air and clean water are also interested in how dentistry contributes to a healthy environment.

REFERENCES

  1. Pockrass I. Be Part of Dentistry’s Green Future. Available at: iabdm.org/ education/articles/dentistrys-green-future. Accessed February 10, 2015.
  2. Desvarieux M, Demmer RT, Jacobs DR Jr, et al. Periodontal bacteria and hypertension: the oral infections and vascular disease epidemiology study (INVEST). J Hypertens. 2010;28:1413–1421.
  3. Han YW, Fardini Y, Chen C, et al. Term stillbirth caused by oral Fusobacterium nucleatum. Obstet Gynecol. 2010;115:442–445.

From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. March 2015;13(1):37–38

 

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