Tackling single use plastics in dental care

22nd April 2023 | Posted by: Vanessa Giraud

Action for Earth Day 2023

During the long months of the coronavirus pandemic, we all learned a lot more about PPE than we ever knew before. One of those facts is that PPE has a use by date.

Earlier this week the receptionist at SpaDental Glastonbury, Alessandra Barbon found a wonderful use for the plastic gowns we are no longer able to use in dental practice. Rather than sending this plastic waste off to landfill, Alex spoke with the team at Happy Landings Animal Rescue who knew they would be able to use the gowns.

Well done Alex, and our thanks to Happy Landings for coming to collect the gowns. We’re happy they have been repurposed.

Alessandra from SpaDental and the team from Happy Landings

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. We hope modern research can come up with new materials that will protect the environment as well as the patient.

Materials and tools in dentistry

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. Staff must also complete regular training on the correct disposal of waste.

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.

In our staff meetings we regularly discuss areas where single-use plastics can be replaced by more eco-friendly products without, of course, compromising patient safety during dental care.

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.


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