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Comparing the environmental impact of reusable and disposable dental examination kits: a life cycle assessment approach

Abstract

Introduction The global climate crisis has increased the emphasis placed on the sustainability and environmental consequences of our actions. The dental examination accounts for a large portion of dentistry's carbon footprint, more specifically, the production, sterilisation, transport, use and disposal of the dental examination kit. An attributional life cycle assessment (LCA) was carried out to compare the impact of a reusable stainless-steel examination kit and that of a disposable plastic examination kit.

Materials and methods All inputs, outputs and processes across the life cycle were accounted for using Ecoinvent database v3.7.1 and openLCA software. Impacts were considered across 16 European-recommended environmental impact categories and eight human health impact categories.

Results The disposable kit performed worse across all categories of ecological and human health harm. Categories with most notable impact were climate change, metal-mineral and fossil fuel resource depletion and water scarcity. Impacts were primarily attributable to material processing, instrument production and sterilisation procedures.

Conclusion Healthcare is responsible for a significant proportion of greenhouse gas emissions. The single-use examination kit poses greater ecological and human health threat than does the reusable examination kit; this aligns closely with related research in the field. The dentist seeking to adopt more environmentally-conscientious practices should consider using a reusable, stainless-steel examination kit.

Key points

  • Disposable dental examination kits pose greater threats to environmental and personal health in comparison to reusable, stainless-steel examination kits.

  • The selection of more sustainable instruments is one of numerous measures which can be adopted to lessen the planetary burden of clinical dental practice.

  • There are plausible cost benefits associated with reusable, stainless-steel examination kits, although further studies using life-cycle cost analysis are required.

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Acknowledgements

The data compiled and examined during the study are not available to the general public due to the fact that datasets were extracted from Ecoinvent database (v.3.7.1).

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Authors

Contributions

Brett Duane devised the concept of and supervised the research and critically appraised and revised manuscripts, as did Alexandra Lyne and Sophie Saget. David Byrne, Alexandra Davidson, Hassaan Haneef, Aisha Almudahkah, Toka Abdeldaim, Ann Marie Bergin, Niamh Basquille and John Prida performed background literature review, collected data for LCA input and contributed to overall study design. Hassaan Haneef ran openLCA software to generate raw research results, while Alexandra Davidson and David Byrne performed numerical and contribution analyses of all results. David Byrne is the primary manuscript author.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to David Byrne.

Ethics declarations

The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest in this study, financial or otherwise. This study did not involve the use of human participants, personal data or human tissue samples, and so ethical approval was not required. The manuscript does not contain any material or information reproduced from an individual's personal data.

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Byrne, D., Saget, S., Davidson, A. et al. Comparing the environmental impact of reusable and disposable dental examination kits: a life cycle assessment approach. Br Dent J 233, 317–325 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41415-022-4912-4

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