Five ways to improve energy efficiency in the dental sector

Neil Gallant of Neutronic Technologies discusses how to better manage the carbon footprint of the dental sector

Neil Gallant

As energy bills continue to rise, and ever-stricter green targets are imposed on the medical sector; it has never been more important to manage the carbon footprint of the healthcare estate, both in terms of cost, but also ethical best practice. In this article, Neil Gallant of Neutronic Technologies provides useful and actionable advice on reducing the impact of dental services on the environment

According to The Carbon Trust, the UK’s healthcare sector spends over £400m on energy per year.

Rising gas and electricity bills, coupled with the UK’s rather-ambitious targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 - based on levels in 1990 - are forcing those in even the smallest dental practices to think more and more about their usage, and wastage.

Rising gas and electricity bills, coupled with the UK’s rather-ambitious targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 - based on levels in 1990 - are forcing those in even the smallest dental practices to think more and more about their energy usage, and wastage

Many will be wondering how they can possibly reduce their energy consumption, given the amount of high-tech equipment that is in constant use. But, actually, there are plenty of ways that those working in the dental profession can do their bit to cut their carbon footprint and reduce their own costs in the meantime.

Read on for our top five tips on how the dental profession can boost its energy efficiency from the inside out.

1) Go digital: Digital dental X-rays have transformed the way that dentistry works. They have made dental treatment safer and more convenient for patients, and have also made the industry more environmentally-friendly. By converting to digital X-rays, many practices have taken the first important step towards being greener and more high-tech. Conventional X-rays, among other issues, also carry the risks associated with disposing of toxic materials and lead foils. Going digital helps to tackle energy efficiency on two levels; not only does it cut down on your costs, it reduces the amount of non-recyclable materials that you produce.

2) Watching your water: Given that the act of brushing your teeth alone uses a great deal of water, and that dentists must keep their hands clean at all times; dental surgeries are responsible for using a lot of water every day. One of the biggest culprits for this is the simple act of dentists leaving taps running while a patient’s teeth are cleaned and when staff are washing their hands. By being strict with water usage, and only using it when needed, dental practices will find they can save a huge amount of water over a relatively-short period of time. This will reduce monthly water bills and have a positive effect on the environment.

As technology develops faster and becomes more innovative, it is likely we will see more energy-efficient methods and pieces of medical equipment that will not only improve energy efficiency, but will also enhance the quality of care given

3) Step up your waste management: For any medical or healthcare organisation, waste management is a big issue. There are numerous ways that dental practices across the UK can cut down on their waste and their carbon footprint at the same time. The first step is to ensure that waste is being managed properly. Having separate bins for general waste and clinical waste is key as it ensures all refuse is dealt with in the most-efficient and cost-effective way possible. Also, speak to the company that collects your waste, both medical and general, and question how it is disposed of. Nowadays, many companies will operate an ‘energy from waste’ policy where waste streams are recycled or the waste is disposed of in a way that turns energy into heat or electricity. The biggest waste problem in the dental profession, or at least the one that has the largest environmental impact and potential for harm, is amalgam. Admittedly, the majority of amalgam used in the dental industry is recycled and then returned to manufacturers in order to be used again. However, not all amalgam that is used in dental practices undergoes this process and steps must be taken to ensure that it does not enter the water supply. As part of a practice’s efforts to become more energy efficient, fitting an amalgam separator to dental chairs and filters under sinks can ensure that every trace of mercury is collected and disposed of properly.

4) Make simple changes: Even some of the simplest changes in a dental practice can actually save tremendous amounts of energy. The dental profession is renowned for using large amounts of electricity, from the tools themselves to the lights. One of the easiest switches to make in order to save energy is to swap any halogen bulbs you may be using for LED light bulbs, as these can use up to 75% less energy than incandescent ones. They also last much longer, meaning you don’t have to spend as much money on replacements in the future. More and more dentists are now also exploring the use of waterless vacuum systems, a practice that first emerged in the US. According to the International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine, waterless vacuum systems can save approximately 300 to 500 gallons of water per day for each dentist. Not only will this help dental practices to cut down on their water bills, but it also drastically reduces the amount of water wasted and cuts down on the risk of contaminated water entering the main supply.

One of the easiest switches to make in order to save energy is to swap any halogen bulbs you may be using for LED light bulbs, as these can use up to 75% less energy than incandescent ones

5) Make high-tech changes: It’s not just the suggestions made above that will help to drive energy efficiency amongst dental practices. The dental profession has undergone some major technology-driven trends over the past few years, including air-driven hand pieces and the use of local anaesthetics, to name but a few. And as technology develops faster and becomes more innovative, it is likely we will see more energy-efficient methods and pieces of medical equipment that will not only improve energy efficiency, but will also enhance the quality of care given.

The UK already had some extremely-ambitious green targets in place, but following the COP21 Climate Talks that recently took place in Paris, there were discussions of a new target for the 195 countries that attended, which would require net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. If the world is to achieve these goals, then it is up to everyone to do their bit to reduce their carbon footprint.

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