"Small changes towards a big difference," is the motto of the Missouri Dental Association's current promotional campaign to involve dentists and their staffs in using best management practices for amalgam waste. Amalgams are the silver-colored tooth fillings that offer affordable and reliable restorations, but contain metals including small amounts of mercury.
Industry studies have shown that amalgam fillings do not harm humans, but when discharged into wastewater the tiny amounts of mercury can accumulate up the food chain. The campaign will help protect Missouri's waterways and possibly prevent the need for future regulations governing amalgam waste. It is the first part of the MDA's effort to establish Missouri dentists as leaders in environmental awareness and practice.
"The MDA as a whole has demonstrated that its members are willing to accept responsibility for their environmental impacts, even though their impact is relatively small, and they are earning the appreciation of regulatory agencies, like the EPA and the Missouri DNR, that are charged with reducing mercury pollution," says Marie Steinwachs director of the University of Missouri Environmental Assistance Center, who has been a vital partner in the MDA's campaign.
"I definitely see a future for "green" Missouri dental practices, and I think the sky's the limit. With developing technologies, and innovative new ways to help the environment, I think you will see dentists jump on board and do their part. There is an entire generation of kids being raised to be environmentally conscious, and that generation will demand smart environmental choices from the businesses they choose to visit."- Brian Vierthaler, owner of Vierthaler Dentistry in Maryville, Mo.
The program's initial focus is to encourage dentists to collect and recycle amalgam waste through the voluntary use of amalgam separators in dental offices. By negotiating with equipment and service providers, the MDA has been successful at lowering the cost for members to participate. The best management practices program was introduced at the MDA's 2010 winter session, and dentists are already listening — and acting.
"The MDA is committed to making our dentists aware of things we can do environmentally, so I will always listen to what they have to say," says Brian Vierthaler, owner of Vierthaler Dentistry in Maryville. "As a matter of fact, our amalgam separator has already been installed since the MDA kicked off its promotion."
Vierthaler understands the importance of reducing amalgam waste, beyond the possible regulatory factors. "If dentists can reduce any pollutants to the environment, we should. Following BMPs shouldn't be because we are forced to, it should be done because it's the right thing to do," he observes.
Taking steps to reduce any mercury pollution is important. "The problem with mercury is that it moves through the environment and accumulates up the food chain. We have fish consumption advisories on every body of water in the country, alerting people to limit consumption of some fish because of mercury concentrations," says Steinwachs.
Vierthaler is also considering other ways that his practice can reduce its impact. "Simple things, such as being conscious of our waste and recycling can make a significant difference. Our office is digital, so we really use a minimal amount of paper and chemicals during our daily functions," he says.
Running an environmentally conscious business benefits Vierthaler's bottom line and his clients' satisfaction too. "It definitely is a cost saver to be digital, and I think my patients enjoy being part of a practice that considers the environment in the choices that we make," says Vierthaler.
"I definitely see a future for "green" Missouri dental practices, and I think the sky's the limit. With developing technologies, and innovative new ways to help the environment, I think you will see dentists jump on board and do their part," he predicts. "There is an entire generation of kids being raised to be environmentally conscious, and that generation will demand smart environmental choices from the businesses they choose to visit."
For more information about practices to green dental offices, visit www.missouribusiness.net/eac/p2/sectors/dental.asp.
This story was featured in the Feb. 2010 newsletter
- Leah Christian, Missouri Environmental Assistance Center