• May 27, 2011
  • Dr. Catherine-Anne Walsh

Maybe it comes with getting older or with being a parent, but lately, I have felt an almost palpable change in my perception of the World. Not that I have just found out about global warming, dangerous weather, global food shortage or antibiotic-resistant bacteria plaguing the world (to name just a few), but once upon a time, I would have shrugged my shoulders at these issues and thought: “these issues are much bigger than me, it is up to governments, industry polluters or whoever else who is bigger than me, to solve them”. Lately, I have realized that I have this awesome power to make changes in my life and affect others to do the same. I don’t feel so small any more. And it is not just me being naive- my ability to implement ideas and change the way I conduct business (and my private life) is giving me the confidence to share my ideas and get other people to change the way they work and start thinking about how what they do affects those around them. Here I have to admit that after I wrote the first couple of paragraphs of this blog, I listened to an audiobook of Stephen R. Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. The timing was just perfect: I could hear the way my view of self and others was changing, beautifully verbalised by  Mr. Covey’s eloquent words. According to him, by achieving my “private victories” (being proactive, having a personal and professional vision and having a set of priorities), I would be strong enough to share my own ideas, hear and accept ideas and thoughts of those around me and most importantly, take part in synergies that can produce some amazing things! Mr Covey defines synergy as “the whole (is) greater than the sum of the parts”. As Mr. Covey put it in his “Habit 1”, as the “circle of influence” gets larger and the ability to influence others expands, the “circle of concern” (that which we cannot change or do anything about) in our lives shrinks. So, this must be what my change has really been about! I have been deliberately expanding my circle of influence. I have been opening my eyes and ears to the people and events around me and choosing to be influenced by them. In return, I have been able to share my ideas with others. I have been able to plant the seeds of possibility to effect some great changes into those around me and the time has come to start bringing my vision to life.

What makes me believe I can effect a change?

  1. Governments are chosen by people like ME to represent people like ME.
  2. Industry polluters produce products for people like ME, who buy them, not questioning how they are produced and at what real cost to our planet, our health and our future.
  3. I belong to an industry which pollutes! I belong to an industry which is the top polluter of our water, above all the other industries in the world.

So, on the most basic level, before I even start to unveil any of my grand plans, I must do first things first:

  1. Vote responsibly
  2. Not buy products harmful to the environment, no matter how cheap or easily available. Actually, I won’t buy these products, no matter how expensive or difficult to find may be the ‘green’ alternatives. This is really not as easy as it seems. I started researching biodegradable plastic barriers for my dental practice back in 2006. At that time, there were no distributors of appropriate biodegradable barriers in Australia. When I recently repeated my search, the long process yielded ONE result. Luckily, this company also offsets the production of those items which cannot be produced in a sustainable manner, by planting trees. It may not be the best way to protect the environment, but it is certainly better than supporting those companies who do far less than that! We are also making great efforts to run a paperless practice. We have recently purchased a new, high-quality digital X-ray capture system, which will be in operation in a few months’ time. This will cut out the need for the chemical development of films and storage of films.
  3. Reduce the output of harmful waste into the water. We already have hazardous waste collected by a specialised company. There is one much more alarming type of pollutant, though, which is currently being released into wastewater by a huge majority of dental practices in Australia, including ours: mercury-containing amalgam restorations! Once released into the environment, the mercury is converted into highly toxic, methyl-mercury vapour, which slowly enters the food chain through marine life! Even though we do not place these restorations in our practice, we still occasionally have to remove them from some people’s teeth. To reduce our output, we have pledged to install an amalgam separator within the next few months. This is a device which traps these metal alloys, so that they can be collected and disposed of responsibly, or recycled for other uses, rather than released into the water system. These devices have already become law in a few states and we hope New South Wales will not be too far behind in ensuring that amalgam separators become commonplace in dental surgeries across the state.

WHY? Why not? It may be time-consuming seeking out ‘green’ alternatives or the best ways to install new equipment, it may require additional financial investment at the start, but once the basics are in place, it is no more time-consuming or expensive to run a dental practice in a more environmentally friendly manner. If anything, not buying developing chemicals, films, cumbersome paper filing systems and many other “staples” of old-school practices, may actually reduce the cost of supplies. It is possible to be a ‘greener’ dental practice and every little step towards true sustainability counts, so not doing anything at all seems, well…unethical!

Let’s face it: dentistry will not be “natural” until we can re-grow teeth or parts thereof. That prospect is not exactly science fiction (see earlier blog “The future (of dentistry) is unwritten”), but it is a decade or more away from being commercially available. Even then, unless new technology produces durable recycled and recyclable materials for medical use, we will still not be able to be completely “green”. However, are the current practices of pumping tonnes of amalgam waste into water, of sending tonnes of plastic barriers to landfills, of printer toners and wasted paper, really the best we can do? I’m afraid not!

“The key to change… is to let go of fear.”Rosanne Cash


Dr. Catherine-Anne Walsh
About The Author

Dr. Catherine-Anne Walsh

Catherine-Anne is a New Zealand-qualified dentist. She holds a Masters Degree in Public Health from Sydney University and she has a broad range of experiences from working in both the public and private sector.


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