A certificate to bring a big smile to your face

The dental and oral health industry is no less immune to the needs of our planet than any other. In this series of interviews, the European Federation of Periodontology is exploring what our partners are doing to help fight climate change.

In this interview, we talk to Christoph Ramseier, a periodontist and doctor based in Bern in Switzerland.

Christoph prefers prevention over cure. “As studies reveal, the journey for both the employees and the patients, from home to the dental practice and back is actually having the greatest CO2 footprint.”

“If the dental practice is reachable through public transport, that would be an excellent opportunity to tell patients to take public transport.”

Research data shows it is outside the dental practice where the emissions are. Christoph, however, believes there is much more you can do to reduce emissions and waste inside the dentist itself. Paperless digital dentistry and low emission light bulbs, using less water and dental materials produced nearby, are all doable and a good thing.

What about lengthening the interval between appointments?  Christoph says “We should do more preventative measures rather than therapeutic measures.” Moreover, having a good rapport with your dentist is key to keeping them out of the surgery! How so?

Teledentistry needs to play a bigger part without compromising the dentist’s income stream.

According to Christoph it is about relationships. “The connection between the dentist and the patient needs to be looked at. It is like capital; it makes the patient call or email the dentist and that is more economic. Modern technology will be a part of the connection between the dentist and the patient. It does not replace the appointment but increases the rapport.”

Patients will have to see that a teledentistry appointment is worth paying for, in the same way as actually visiting the dental practice. To protect income, big organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), dental associations and insurers need to make teledentistry an official activity.

Research is needed, believes Christoph.

Changing behaviour is also crucial. “Behavioural change isn’t often achieved in one session or one day. Remote sessions about flossing, brushing effectively etc don’t take long; fifteen, twenty minutes… By supporting patients to improve their oral hygiene in a teledentistry session rather than in the dental practice may be very effective and sustainable too.”

Another key for Christoph is sustainability certification. There needs to be several, perhaps between six and 10, simple criteria for a dentist to achieve a meaningful certificate. These could include, for example, encouraging the use of public transport, low emission lighting in the surgery, recycling of materials and more. The certificate wouldn’t last forever, with authorities checking for re-certification every two to four years. This would pose an administrative challenge, and you would need to police fraud and mal-practice for example. “I do believe that the certification approach would be best applied or implemented top to bottom.” says Christoph. “If policy makers at the WHO or EU level put certification into their guidelines, then dental associations could use that both nationally and locally.”

In Switzerland, where he practices, there is a logo with a little tooth covered by an umbrella. Any company wanting that logo on their packaging must do a test in a lab, measuring saliva pH value. “Chewing or eating their product mustn’t allow the pH level to drop below a certain threshold.”

A simple test that must be passed and cannot be challenged. The reason? Low pH equals acid, and acid rots teeth!

For Christoph, the dentist, sustainable dentistry is about reducing car journeys, digital dentistry, rapport and certification.