What's the issue?
The UK Climate Change Act 2008 impacts on the whole of the UK, despite environment being a devolved responsibility for the four countries in the UK. It set out a challenge to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.
Dentistry is facing many challenges to help tackle the problem, particularly around decontamination, waste disposal and the use of single-use plastics.
The NHS published an updated carbon strategy for England in 2010, setting ways the NHS could become more efficient and reduce carbon emissions.
With the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, Public Health England published a report on carbon modelling within dentistry in July 2018, showing that the major areas of carbon emissions for dentistry are travel, procurement, energy, nitrous oxide, waste and water.
NHS dental services emissions make up 3% of the overall carbon footprint of the NHS.
What is the BDA doing?
Under the remit of our Education, Ethics and the Dental Team Working Group (a sub-group of our Principal Executive Committee) we are investigating the issue sustainability and its impact upon dentistry.
We are a member of the World Dental Federation (FDI) and their 2017 statement on sustainability is a call to action for all dental associations to take a lead on sustainability.
We are working collaboratively with other key stakeholders to develop policy and practical ways forward.
Since 2018, we have been part of the Dental Sustainability Advisory Group (DSAG), originally set up by Health Education England, and run by the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (CSH), which is now self-funding.
We are supporting dental practices to help implement practical ways of becoming more sustainable, within the confines of current health and safety legislation.
Our Good Practice team are considering ways we can support dentists, including developing a voluntary module on sustainability in dental practice.
The CSH have produced a dental sustainability guide, to which we provided input. We also took part in the first dental sustainability conference in 2018.
One of the main barriers identified for dental practices engaging in becoming more sustainable is the health and safety legislation guidance across the four UK countries (HTM 01-05 in England, Minimum standards for dental care and treatment in Northern Ireland, Decontamination into practice in Scotland and WHTM0105 in Wales).
We are working with Brett Duane, Associate Professor in Public Dental Health, Trinity College Dublin, to consider how sustainability can be put into practice, whilst ensuring dentists continue to uphold the highest standards in decontamination and protect patient safety.
Reducing mercury pollution from dentistry is one strand of DEFRA's 25-year environment plan, and we continue to work with national and international partners to ensure there is a gradual reduction in the use of dental amalgam, allowing for the best interest of patients and feasibility for UK dentistry. Preventing dental disease, and thereby reducing the need for any dental restorations, is key to this and to supporting sustainability more widely in dentistry.
What can dentists do?
The CSH's dental sustainability guide is free for all dental practices to use and aims to provide a framework for the issues that dentistry can tackle. It focuses on travel, equipment (procurement), energy, waste, biodiversity and green space and measuring and embedding sustainability.
The BDJ has a collection of papers on sustainability in dentistry, curated by the CSH and Brett Duane.
The BDA Library also has useful information on the topic of sustainability in dentistry, including a package of research articles on the topic.
Read about our latest work on sustainability in dentistry in our blogs.
If you have any questions about our work on sustainability in dentistry, please get in touch with our policy team.