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Study examines public perceptions regarding sustainable dentistry

A new study from researchers at the University of Sheffield has found that dental patients are likely to accept certain compromises in order for the dental treatments they receive to be more sustainable. (Image: KateBud/Shutterstock)

SHEFFIELD, UK: Given the relatively high levels of material waste produced during the course of dental procedures, a more sustainable approach to dentistry has been advocated by many within the industry. A study from researchers at the University of Sheffield has sought to examine how the general public perceives the push for sustainability within the profession and to better understand what compromises will be accepted in the name of environmentally friendly dentistry.

The research team, which is spread across the university’s Department of Psychology and School of Clinical Dentistry, set up an online questionnaire for participants recruited via private dental practices and by other means. Data regarding the participants’ views about sustainable dentistry, as well as demographic data and information about the participants’ overall oral health, was collected between August 2020 and February 2021. In total, 344 adults responded to the survey.

Positive attitudes towards sustainability

Overall, the researchers found that participants responded quite positively to sustainable dentistry and were “moderately willing to compromise time and convenience”. In addition, they were somewhat likely to agree to pay more and receive potentially less durable dental treatment if it meant that the treatment would be more environmentally conscious. Respondents were least likely to accept compromises regarding the appearance of their teeth or their oral health status, whereas those having better self-rated oral health were more likely to view sustainable dentistry in a positive light.

“Participants’ ethnicity, level of education and employment status were not found to be associated with their attitudes towards, or willingness to make compromises for, sustainable dentistry,” the authors noted. However, they added that, similarly to the results of previous studies conducted on attitudes about sustainability, significant differences were present in accordance with age and gender. Older respondents were less likely to want to compromise their time and convenience than younger respondents, whereas women displayed more positive attitudes regarding sustainable dentistry than men did.

Survey respondents who were registered with a dentist recorded more positive attitudes towards sustainable dentistry than those who were unregistered. Whereas the frequency of dental visits did not appear to affect these attitudes among participants, the authors found that those who visited more frequently for routine dental check-ups stated that they were more likely to pay more to reduce the ecological footprint of their visits.

In their discussion, the authors recognised a number of limitations regarding their study, including the relative homogeneity of respondents, the lack of measuring household income or socio-economic status and the focus on participants’ willingness to make compromises rather than on their actual behaviour. This focus was justified by the reasoning that “there is currently little choice for the public when it comes to reducing the impact of their dental treatments on the environment”.

“[F]uture research may want to use environmental assessment (for example, Life Cycle Assessment), in order to inform which types of compromises would have a beneficial impact on the sustainability of dental services,” the authors stated. “Such research would inform what changes should be made, while our research can inform whether such changes would likely be accepted by the public,” they added.

The study, titled “Exploring attitudes towards more sustainable dentistry among adults living in the UK”, was published online on 26 August 2022 in the British Dental Journal.

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