Can I be a safe dentist and environmentally conscious at the same time?

Date: October 2020

Author: Louise Sinclair

As an environmentally conscious dental student, you may be alarmed at the number of single-use items you go through in a typical day! It might seem that practicing dentistry and protecting our planet are incompatible, but thankfully this is not the case. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the ways in which dental students and new dentists can serve their patients while minimizing the impact on the environment.

Cut down on single-use plastic items and other materials

Reducing plastic usage is one of the most simple and impactful steps you can take for an environmentally responsible practice. Here are just a few examples:

  • Provide paper or biodegradable cups for drinking and rinsing.
  • Purchase equipment made from autoclavable materials when appropriate and possible.
  • Use fluoride varnish over single-use fluoride trays.

Some organizations also recommend switching to biodegradable or compostable bags when giving out products, samples or goody bags. Unlike your dental equipment, though, bags are completely non-essential. That’s why Colgate’s Skip the Bag initiative recommends forgoing the bags altogether. We no longer package our samples in plastic bags, and we encourage you to distribute them to your patients in the same way!


Be sure to recycle your plastics, paper, metal, glass, electronics and batteries in the correct way according to your local regulations. Encourage others to do the same by placing recycling bins in convenient places, with clear instructions on proper use. You may also be able to separate paper plastic pouches by material and recycle these.To ensure your recycling program is as effective as possible, conduct regular audits to check that it’s being followed correctly.

Additionally, you can join a collaborative recycling initiative like TerraCycle. You can encourage your patients to bring in plastic waste from oral health products, such as toothpaste tubes, floss containers and old toothbrushes, and TerraCycle will collect them from your office. In partnership with Colgate-Palmolive, TerraCycle saves around nine million of these plastic products from landfills per year.

Recommend sustainable products

When you’re recommending or providing products to your patients, choose products made with sustainable ingredients, materials and packaging. For example, Colgate recently introduced the fully recyclable toothpaste tube, the first of its kind in the oral healthcare industry.

We’re also aiming to reduce the use of plastic in oral care tools with products like the Colgate Bamboo Charcoal Toothbrush. Bamboo is a highly sustainable material that grows quickly and needs very little water or fertilizer, making it an environmentally sound choice for your patients.

Partner with responsible companies

You want to know that the companies you do business with have the same commitment to the environment as you do. When you’re looking for suppliers or vendors, look at their core values to ensure that sustainability is front and center. Ask yourself:

  • Are they investing tangible resources into green practices?
  • What initiatives have they put in place?
  • Are they on track to meet their goals?
  • How are they holding themselves accountable to their promises?

Sustainability is a priority at Colgate-Palmolive, which has pledged to reduce landfill and consumer waste, conserve water and energy, and responsibly source and manufacture, among many other environmental initiatives. And to demonstrate our commitment to results and accountability, we’ve formally signed on to programs like the Association of Plastic Recyclers’ Recycling Demand Champions Program.

Educate your patients

You can also make an impact by encouraging your patients to practice sustainability at home. Share your trusted, eco-friendly product recommendations with them, and educate them on helpful habits to conserve energy and water.

For example, did you know that leaving the faucet on while brushing your teeth wastes around four gallons of water each time? As a result of Colgate’s Save Water campaign encouraging people to turn off the faucet while brushing, it’s estimated that 50 billion gallons of water are being saved globally! Remind your patients that with simple habits like this, we all have the power to make an enormous difference to our planet.