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Why dentists must be more green

Green recycle arrows with the words reduce reuse recycle

Many of us likely have a genetic predisposition to help people or things get better. If not, we would have chosen investment banking for our careers. It’s much more lucrative and there is no saliva, but it’s not typically as interactive or lifesaving as dentistry.

This care factor is what keeps me energized in dentistry, and it’s what led me to take an in-depth look into green dentistry. I care about peoples’ health and, therefore, I cannot overlook environmental issues that impact our overall health. 

Fine particulate matter (FPM), for example, is a dangerous substance in our air. FPM is produced by agricultural fields, smokestacks and construction sites among other things. It’s the haze you might see hanging around on a still, calm day. The particles are smaller than the size of a hair, but this makes it easier for them to penetrate into the deep parts of our lungs and even into our bloodstreams. According to,1 “Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems,” including:

  • Premature death in people with heart or lung disease.
  • Nonfatal heart attacks.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Aggravated asthma.
  • Decreased lung function.
  • Increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing.

When I realized the health effects of our lifestyle choices, it was easier to become an advocate for environmental education and change. So, I started small and now make almost all of my dental business decisions with an environmental consciousness that could ultimately help save lives. 

In my office, we recycle everything we can, and we learn from others what the best practices are in dentistry. The insane amount of paper and plastic waste within our small businesses is mind blowing. With a modest recycling program, we save thousands of pieces of plastic from entering crowded landfills where they would take more than 400 years to break down. If the plastic ended up in a waterway, it would break down through photodegradation, but the by-products of bisphenol-a  and polystyrene oligomers would still be in our water, and that is toxic to our food chain that starts with small fish. According to the United Nations Environment Program, by 2050 the amount of plastic is expected to outweigh the amount of fish in our oceans. And, plastic does not go away because it does not biodegrade well. 

Recent research gives us some hope for plastic degradation. According to the Independent, an enzyme first produced by bacteria was discovered in Japan at a recycling center in 2016; the enzyme learned to help digest plastic.2 Studies are ongoing to help further understand how to utilize this enzyme. 

Until then, we can continue to seek ways to minimize our impact on the environment. In our office, a recent purchase of a water distiller helps us reduce the number of plastic jugs of distilled water we buy to fill our autoclave and self-contained water systems. We also stopped buying plastic toys and trinkets for our kids’ play area and treasure box.

We can look for ways to support community events that promote environmental causes such as recycling events, clean water efforts or tree planting days. While we mingle with like-minded people, we can learn about new ways to improve our efforts, and sometimes we may even pick up new patients. 

Because we are naturals at helping make situations better, we can be at the forefront of helping others understand the relationship between environmental health and overall health. When we experience record-setting temperature changes and garbage in our oceans that disrupt the food chain, we can offer our critical thinking skills and our people skills to help others connect the dots for future health care consequences.

Our small efforts to be more intentional with our trash or water usage in our homes and work places are a start for anyone interested in becoming more green. There are many resources available, like, to help track safe air quality levels. 

By being more astute with our green knowledge, our patients will lead healthier lives, and we will be helping make things better.

1) US Environmental Protection Agency. Particulate Matter (PM) Pollution: Health and Environmental Effects of Particulate Matter (PM). Accessed June 12, 2018.

2) Gabbatiss J. Plastic-eating enzyme accidentally created by scientists could help solve pollution crisis. Independent. April 16, 2018. Accessed June 12, 2018.

Dr. Knowles is a national speaker, health educator and practicing dentist in East Lansing, Michigan. For more information or to schedule her for your next speaking event, visit or email