Interview: Sustainable dentistry is a philosophy that offers the best version of ourselves

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Dr Primitivo Roig currently leads dentalDoctors, an organisation specialising in training related to clinical management and leadership. He is an international lecturer and combines teaching with clinical practice at his own clinic. He is also the founder of Clínicas W, the first network of dentists and dental clinics based on the Slow Dentistry method. (Image: Primitivo Roig)
Monique Mehler, Dental Tribune International

By Monique Mehler, Dental Tribune International

Thu. 1. April 2021


Dr Primitivo Roig from Spain is a dentist who combines his clinical practice with a great dedication to the dissemination of knowledge about management in dentistry and with the promotion of a vision of efficient, science-driven and ethical dental management. His main objective is to improve the quality of service provided to patients. He is also very passionate when it comes to sustainability in the dental sector. In an interview with Dental Tribune International, Roig shared his opinion on where he thinks the profession stands when it comes to practising eco-friendly dentistry.

Dr Roig, what do you think the position of dentistry is at the moment regarding eco-friendly dentistry? Is there more that needs to be done, or do you feel like a great deal has changed already?
Undoubtedly, there is a growing awareness of the need for a more sustainable and environmentally friendly approach to dentistry. The current pandemic has provided an opportunity for all of society to reflect on the way in which we live and work across all professions and settings. Dentistry has not been an exception, and increasingly more professionals have realised the importance and critical need to continue doing what we love to do—but in a different way.

In my opinion, the change is only just beginning, and there are other industries and professionals who are way ahead of us. Changing the mentality of the profession as a whole and of all its members is the first step, and this has already begun. Of course, like in other professions, there will be professionals who are less interested in this change, and it will be the job of those who are more visionary and committed to motivate and convince the rest that it is possible and very beneficial for everyone to prioritise more eco-friendly dentistry without having to sacrifice his or her professional growth, innovation and the profitability of his or her professional practice.

FDI World Dental Federation accounts sustainability as a core principle of dentistry which “must be practised ethically, with high levels of quality and safety, in the pursuit of optimal oral health”. What do you think of this statement?
This is a fundamental statement. Quality of care, patient safety, and professional and people-oriented values are the basis of excellence. In a world where the focus seems to be primarily on technology and technique, it is important to remember the fundamental pillars of dentistry and the service provided to each patient. Sometimes the glamour or attractiveness of new developments can take us away from the fundamentals. We need innovation, we need marketing, and we need technological evolution, but none of these contributions will be profitable if they are not applied to sustainable, ethical, safe and quality dentistry. In other words, no icing on the cake will add value to our profession if we neglect our core business.

“[Sustainability] means doing what I enjoy doing most in a way that is respectful not only to the environment but also to people.”

What does sustainability in dentistry mean to you personally?
It means doing what I enjoy doing most in a way that is respectful not only to the environment but also to people. For me, that means taking care of the natural environment as well as the working environment of my clinic and taking care of my patients as well as my team and myself. For me, sustainable dentistry does not simply boil down to a green approach but to a whole philosophy that seeks to offer the best version of our services and ourselves over time, while also having a positive impact on everything around us.

Excellence in dentistry should not only be limited to what we do within the oral cavity, nor should it be justified at any price. Excellence should also encompass everything that happens in the clinic and the impact our work has on society. Excellence must be accessible to the patient, profitable for the professional and sustainable for the environment. If it is not accessible, we cannot provide patients with our high-quality care; if it is not profitable, we will not be able to expand our service over time or continually re-invest in improvements; and if it is not sustainable, we will punish others and, in turn, ourselves with a more toxic and harmful world and work environment.

What are the measures you have implemented in your practice that contribute to a greener future?
I would like to clarify in my answer that, for me, the green aspect is just another pillar in a different way of practising dentistry. Sustainable dentistry must be more respectful to the environment as well as to people and their physical and mental well-being.

In our clinic, we have implemented an entire philosophy and management model that includes several measures. In terms of the environment: use of recyclable and eco-friendly materials in all possible processes; reduction of plastic as much as possible; recycling of waste; elimination of paper thanks to complete digitalisation in management and communication tools; and organisation of the agenda with a slow approach that reduces patient visits to the office and therefore reduces environmental pollution and the use of resources.

And in terms of personal care: work schedules that are compatible with work–life balance; organisational charts with defined roles; individual professional development and support programmes; periodic networking and motivation sessions; thorough monitoring of patient and professional satisfaction through evaluation tools; and periodic productivity, quality and profitability analyses.

In my opinion, a professional who does not know how to take care of his or her practice, his or her team or him- or herself will hardly be able to take care of the environment. That is why, in our model, we pay special attention to making the change towards a greener dentistry by changing our way of working and our style of living.

“For some, it is not important to do more, but to do better, and that is the best motivation to continue channelling excellence towards a much more sustainable model.”

For Dr Primitivo Roig, management and leadership skills are the best complement to good clinical practice, an added value for patients and an ally for the success of all professionals. (Image: Primitivo Roig)

How would you say your colleagues are adapting to such measures? And what advice would you give a colleague who is hesitant about implementing them or to someone who is not fully convinced of the effects of climate change?
I like to think that, by now, there is no one who is not convinced of the effects of climate change. I think it is not a question of being convinced about the problem but rather about finding the solution and our role in it. There are many who know the problem and few who know the solution. This is not a problem for a few, and therefore, the solution is not reserved for the minority.

I think the main challenge lies in the fact that we, as professionals, must slow down the pace of our work and lifestyle so that we can take better control of our agendas and give ourselves the opportunity to be able to perform with much greater calmness and awareness. I like to say that we live in a very fast world, so living slower will help us to take better care of everything and everyone. Each person must know that his or her contribution, no matter how small, adds up to the common mission. I am totally convinced that there is a much brighter, much more enriching and much more beneficial way of dentistry for everyone.

Presently, there is no official body that governs what green dentistry really means. It is an optional step to take for dental professionals. Do you think there should be laws in this regard in order to enforce change?
Any organisation or project aimed at improving dentistry should always be welcomed. However, in my personal opinion, I am not really convinced that green dentistry should be championed by a specific body. Although it would be a great contribution if it existed, I think that the change should rather be led by regulatory bodies, universities and institutions already in existence. Undoubtedly, I think they are the ones who should motivate the change by regulating professional practice in order to facilitate a change that is certainly necessary and beneficial.

Dentistry and dental professionals should never be a problem for anyone or anything; on the contrary, we should set an example and be part of the solution. Why then do we not pay sufficient attention to an aspect as important as the impact made by our profession? It is not easy, and one cannot always set an example, but trying to improve every day and striving to contribute increases the reward of practising dentistry.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
We live in a fast-paced world, where multitasking, uncontrolled speed, stress, the need to be in multiple places at once and the lack of time can be considered as some of the viruses that almost no one talks about. Slowing down the pace of work in search of a greater balance where calmness and control gain ground over stress and chaos is possibly the greatest challenge we are facing and the greatest need we have in order to achieve a more sustainable dentistry.

There are many ways to refer to the model of dentistry which I call Slow Dentistry. We were global pioneers in developing a method inspired by the Slow movement and this has helped us channel excellence regarding the professional, the patient and the environment in a much more sustainable way.

The Slow movement has been in motion for many years, and dentistry is, and should be, a participant in a global movement shared with such diverse industries as fashion, gastronomy, health, education, tourism and lifestyle. For some, it is not important to do more, but to do better, and that is the best motivation to continue channelling excellence towards a much more sustainable model.

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