“Green dentistry has finally arrived,” explains Ina Pockrass, CEO of Transcendentist, Inc., a professional green dental products company and co-creator of the country’s first green dental office. In 2003 Ina and her dentist husband Dr. Fred Pockrass embarked upon a path to create a triple bottom line model for dentistry with the goal of reducing waste, lowering dentist office operating costs and increasing the alignment between the dentist and their customer’s health interests. Today their pioneering efforts are an example of an emerging market segment called green dentistry.
Green dentistry is pioneering innovations in the following key areas:
- Dental Processes and Materials. U.S. dental offices dump 1.7 billion paper and plastic sterilization items and 680 million plastic patient barriers into landfills every year. A typical throwaway plastic pouch is used for 30-60 minutes during a dental procedure but requires a lifetime to decompose in a landfill. Reusable alternatives reduce this waste stream and lowers dental office operating costs. “Our reusable sterilization pouches cost only $.10 per use while disposable versions cost $.20 per use. That’s a win for the environment and the pocketbook,” Ina explains. In addition, a typical dental practice using conventional x-ray systems will generate a waste stream of lead foil and toxic x-ray development chemical waste. Green dental offices use digital imaging that eliminates the x-ray waste stream while also reducing a patient’s radiation exposure by 75 to 90%.
- Office Construction, Furnishings and Maintenance. Green dentistry also has a focus upon the office’s indoor air quality including minimizing allergens. Examples of the design and operating focus of green dentistry include use of low VOC paints, furnishings/flooring made from natural materials, formaldehyde-free cabinetry and biodegradable cleaning supplies. Green dentistry offices also have a focus upon reducing energy consumption and related emissions through deployment of energy efficient lighting, installation of energy efficient heating/cooling equipment and the expanded use of natural light.
- Office Administration and Marketing. Rather than the typical wall of paper patient charts, green dentists use digital patient records and electronic patient communications. They use email and text to confirm patient appointments and conduct their patient outreach through electronic rather than paper newsletter. To the extent paper is used, the goal is to use 100% recycled paper and to set the office copiers to run double-sided.
Economic analysis is emerging in green dentistry documenting significant cost savings tied to these best practices.
Natural Logic’s analysis of the Pockrass green dentist office found $50,000 of annual cost savings sourced from $2,237 a year achieved by converting to reusable cloth items, $601 a year by switching to energy efficient lighting, and $37,000 a year by abandoning amalgam filling materials, which contain 50% mercury. The Pockrass also experienced a revenue upside from marketing to value based consumers. Their green dental office now ranks among the top 5% of all American dental offices in annual revenue.
Based upon this growing level of benefits documentation dentists are increasingly viewing green dentistry as an emerging opportunity. Today there is an Eco-dentistry Association (EDA). The EDA is a resource for dentists on best practices in green dentistry including a GreenDoc green dental office certification program focused upon waste reduction, pollution prevention, energy and water conservation, and wellness. The EDA also offers educational outreach to consumers on the benefits of earth-friendly dental practices and a website-listing of members enabling a consumer’s search for a nearby green dentist. Currently, EDA’s membership has grown to 500 participating members.
“Today’s customer is looking for authenticity,” Pockrass concludes. “That is the competitive advantage of being a green dentist. We are true to our clients and the environment’s best interests. It is something both customers and green dentists can smile about!”