Reduce, recycle, reuse and rethink

Prevention is the most impactful way of reducing environmental harm

03 May, 2022 / indepth
 Will Peakin  

A consensus statement on environmentally sustainable oral healthcare1 has been launched by the FDI World Dental Federation (FDI), aimed at moving the oral healthcare sector towards more environmentally friendly practices that ultimately reduce the carbon footprint of the profession.

The statement was released last month at a summit organised by FDI that brought together a diverse range of stakeholders, including leading figures from industry, as well as health professionals, academic experts, legislative authorities, and dental associations.

“The healthcare sector is responsible for around five per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, of which oral healthcare is an important contributor,” said Professor Ihsane Ben Yahya, FDI President and Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry at Mohammed VI University of Health Sciences in Morocco.

“The dental industry has a collective responsibility to reduce its environmental impact and [the] statement is the first major step to achieving that.

“The statement reflects the growing recognition within the oral healthcare community that we must strive to improve oral health in a sustainable manner in compliance with UN targets. Healthier mouths mean a healthier planet.”

Oral healthcare contributes to the environmental burden through air pollution arising from the release of CO2 associated with travel and transport, incineration of waste, lack of recyclable packaging, the greenhouse gas impact of anaesthetic gases such as nitrous oxide, and the high consumption of water.

The Consensus Statement identifies the complex drivers that underpin current behaviours and practices and recommends remediation strategies based on the 4 Rs: Reduce, Recycle, Reuse and Rethink.

It also highlights some of the unavoidable environmental impacts linked to providing accessible dental check-ups and treatments to facilitate good oral health and reduce inequalities in healthcare.

It makes the case for minimising ‘avoidable’ oral healthcare, arguing that it is best achieved through both the delivery and maintenance of good oral healthcare, focused on prevention – with the promotion of good oral hygiene, healthy low-sugar diets, and avoidance of tobacco.

“Prevention is better than cure and it is the most impactful and practical way of reducing the need for clinical interventions and associated environmental impacts,” said Professor Nicolas Martin, Chair of the FDI Sustainability in Dentistry Task Team.

“When treatment is required, oral healthcare should focus on the provision of durable fillings, using high-quality products and materials that will last longer and or require fewer replacements.”

The Consensus Statement is supported by a commentary, Sustainable Oral Healthcare –
A Joint Stakeholder Approach
2, published in the International Dental Journal.

The next steps

2022 (Development)

  • The consensus statement is designed to motivate, drive, and inform changes within the oral health care sector that better embrace sustainability.
  • The FDI is in the process of producing an interactive toolkit that will assist stakeholders in measuring levels of sustainability around their various activities.
  • The consensus statement will provide the basis of an industry Code of Good Practice to be launched at the FDI World Dental Congress in September.

2023 (Implementation)

  • Creation of an education module and supporting resources for undergraduate and postgraduate oral healthcare educational programmes.
  • Host a massive open online course (MOOC) for oral healthcare professionals and dental practices providing further guidance to improve sustainability.
  • Convene a Sustainability in Dentistry Conference for all stakeholders with presentations and workshops focused on research, collaborative initiatives, and consumer/patient engagement in product and policy issues.
  • Establish a mechanism for funding research with the potential to transform the sustainability of oral health care provision.
  • Raise public awareness of the importance of sustainable oral health choices with an educational campaign.


Tags: sustainability

Categories: Feature / Magazine

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