Tackling single use plastics in dental care

22nd April 2021 | Posted by: Vanessa Giraud

The need for research and dialogue

There’s a reason the medical and dental industry uses plastic. A wide range of synthetic polymers have revolutionised standards of hygiene and safety. They have facilitated the delivery of all kinds of treatments, from covering a scratch to performing an organ transplant. Of course, there are other natural materials too, like metals and glass which have been used for millennia and still play an important role. But, without synthetic polymers, health care would not be delivering the safe efficient treatments we have today. So yes, it is hard to see how infection control in a dental surgery would function without plastics. Yet we shouldn’t just wait until modern research can come up with new materials that will protect the environment as well as the patient. There are some steps we can take to help reduce unnecessary single-use plastics in dental care.

hand with single use plastic lid and sea behind

Materials and tools in dentistry

We are very aware how over the last year, because of the pandemic, our use of plastics has increased as we have donned more PPE to keep patients and staff safe. Waste disposal is taken very seriously and staff receive training to separate and process different types of waste.

Dental surgeries maintain strict hygiene standards. Any item that is reused, whether plastic or metal, must be made safe to prevent cross-infection. Fortunately, many of the tools we use can withstand the essential, rigorous decontamination processes between patients so they can be reused.  Patients coming to the surgery do not witness the cleaning, wiping and re-covering of surfaces between each appointment, or the systematic cleansing of equipment in the decontamination area.

Yet there are numerous items designated as single use which need to be disposed of. Moreover, the packaging of products relies on single-use plastics. Cellophane and plastic protect items from contamination. And the liquids we use have to be contained.

Yet there must be ways dental practices can work towards decreasing consumption of single-use plastics. At a recent staff meeting, SpaDental Plymouth discussed areas where single-use plastics can be replaced by more eco-friendly products without, of course, compromising patient safety during dental care. Suggestions include: using paper cups, cardboard suction tubes and cotton buds made with bamboo stems. Small steps, we know, but definitely heading in the right direction.

Tackling single-use plastics in our home dental careeco-friendly brushes

We’ve all been throwing out our toothpaste tubes and old manual toothbrushes in the home recycling waste. Yet recycling is not a solution for the mountains of waste that are accumulating.

Discussion, research and innovation is bringing more eco-friendly products onto the market. The increasing use of bamboo is particularly exciting, as it’s a renewable source with anti-bacterial properties. Moreover, plastic manufacturers are also beginning to include additives to their products that help plastics to break down, although biodegradation is still far too slow to help sea-life now.

In response to patient requests, you can now buy more eco-friendly products at SpaDental Plymouth for home use. There’s toothpaste, dental floss, tongue cleaners, interdental brushes and toothbrushes thoughtfully produced to lessen their environmental impact.

But what about the bristles?

I wondered exactly that. As bamboo toothbrush handles still have nylon bristles attached, how does that work? Well, for now nylon is still the best material for safe, hygienic bristles. Not many of us would want to use the natural alternative of badger hair.

When you need to change your toothbrush, either put the old bamboo handle in your garden compost heap or add it to your commercial compostable waste bin. Before you can do that though, there’s the bristles to deal with. The Humble Co has a website clearly outlining their ideals and their vision for sustainability and long-termism. They manufacture their brushes so that the bristles can be pulled out with pliers for domestic recycling. No-one said it was easy, but steps like this keep us on track.

single use plastics in dental care shows david attenborough on glastonbury stage

What an inspiration!

David Attenborough – just a few miles away from SpaDental Glastonbury at the Glastonbury Festival in Pilton. He didn’t even need to say very much, but at 93 he was there on the pyramid stage. We’ve grown up with him showing us the world’s natural wonders. In Blue Planet 2 he showed us how he has seen the seas, oceans and coastlines of our planet change. We know our throw away culture should not continue.







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