Social Responsibility can be generally described as one’s awareness of the environmental, social, and economic influence of actions and the considered efforts made to minimise impact (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2008). The movement for businesses to have high standards of corporate social responsibility has become an increasing priority and organisations need to demonstrate their commitment to ethical and sustainable operations. As dental professionals, there are numerous ways that we can practice a high level of social responsibility and advocate for better community oral health outcomes. Such strategies can include, but are not limited to, focusing on sustainable practices, community service, and advocacy.
There is no denying that the provision of clinical dentistry produces a great deal of waste with many single-use products forming a part of our practice. Whilst some products at present may not have renewable alternatives, there are sustainable and minimally packaged oral health products we can advocate awareness of, empowering consumers to join the movement in helping to reduce waste. Materials such as bamboo, cardboard, and recyclable plastic are now more commonly being used by companies such as Colgate, reducing the amount of single-use waste that arises from at home dental hygiene routines.
Colgate also partners with Terracycle offering a program entirely free for dental clinics to participate in, providing shipping boxes and allowing anyone to drop off used oral health products of any brand that would otherwise be sent to landfill. Such products include toothpaste tubes and caps, manual toothbrushes, electric toothbrush heads, toothbrush and toothpaste tube plastic packaging and floss containers. Electric toothbrush handles and bases can also be recycled but through a separate program here. Once the recycled products are collected at the dental clinic, they can then be sent off to be recycled. The recycled waste is then processed and used in making a range of products such as garden beds and benches for schools (just to name a couple!).
Dental professionals can also encourage ‘greenifying’ their workplace. This can be through the incorporation of energy efficient lighting, solar panels and battery storage for electricity generation and usage, and using less single-use products. Re-processable clinical equipment such as metal instruments, patient cups, digital x-ray films can also assist your workplace to reduce the waste from single-use products. Electronic patient records and communications can help to enable practices to aim for paperless operation. Careful organisation and treatment protocols involving all staff can significantly help in ensuring that the equipment set out for each patient is dispensed appropriately and only what is required for the appointment is used. This can help in reducing the changing of PPE by assistants during examinations and treatments also. Not only is our main goal to assist patients in dental disease prevention by empowering them to improve their oral health but, less disease incidence can result in less use of materials and waste generated from complex clinical treatments, and a reduced cost for our patients while providing a fulfilling work stream for the practitioner!
Dental professionals can also practice social responsibility through numerous community service avenues. Nominating to volunteer one’s services providing free dental care for vulnerable and in-need populations can have a significant impact on those in our communities. Various organisations such as the Australian Dental Health Foundation can help facilitate these initiatives. In addition, your workplace may participate in sponsoring local community events or arrange various health promotional activities to raise awareness and support the wellbeing of others.
Finally, one of our major roles as dental professionals is to advocate evidence-based oral health advice to the public. The Dental Board of Australia’s Code of Conduct (2014) provides guidance around the responsibility registered dental practitioners have “to promote the health of the community through disease prevention and control, education, and where relevant, screening’ (pp.16) and to practice ‘in accordance with the current and accepted evidence base of the health profession, including clinical outcomes’ (pp. 8). With vast amounts of harmful misinformation accessible to the population, we as health professionals must ensure that we advise and advocate in accordance with current evidence-based literature. Furthermore, engaging with and supporting your professional associations can align well with practicing enhanced social responsibility. Professional associations can not only help to advocate for the dental profession but can also support in advocating for improved access to dental services and community health outcomes.
Australian Human Rights Commission 2008, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility & Human Rights’, Australian Human Rights Commission, viewed 29th December 2021, <https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/corporate-social-responsibility-human-rights>.
Dental Board of Australia 2014, ‘Code of conduct’, DBA, viewed 29th December 2021,
Terracycle 2021 ‘Oral Care Recycling Program’, Terracycle, viewed 29th December 2021,
About the author:
William 'CJ' Carlson-Jones is an Oral Health Therapist currently working part-time in private practice across rural South Australia and at the Adelaide Dental School providing clinical tutoring with the University of Adelaide. Completing his Bachelor of Oral Health and Graduate Certificate in Oral Health Science both from the University of Adelaide, CJ has recently completed a Master of Business Administration with aspirations to facilitate accessible, high quality dental care for all Australians. He is the Director of Finance for the Australian Dental & Oral Health Therapists’ Association (ADOHTA) and is a strong advocate for a team approach to dental care. He is a founding representative of the Colgate Advocates for Oral Health: Editorial Community.