Sink Your Teeth into Sustainability

Erin Barton
Release Date: 


Sustainable Dentistry Project Team“Do no harm” is a phrase often associated with the health professions, but what about when it comes to the environment? In healthcare, the main priority is always the patient. “Being green” just isn’t at the forefront of practitioners’ minds. But the health industry is a major source of pollutants. Dentistry alone is the single largest source of mercury, a potent neurotoxin, at sewage treatment plants, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Does doing no harm stop at the clinic’s doors? Or is there a way to balance the immediate needs of the patient with the long-term needs of society and the environment?


  • Mary-Catherine Goddard, School of Public Health
  • Shivani Kamodia, School of Dentistry
  • Robert Meyer, College of Engineering and School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE)
  • Sean Pavlik, School of Business and SNRE
  • Megan Schmenk, Law School
  • Elizabeth Yates, School of Medicine



Advocating for a more environmentally-friendly healthcare industry, particularly dentistry, gets Shivani Kamodia really fired up. She’s the first student from the University of Michigan’s (U-M) School of Dentistry to receive a Dow Sustainability Fellowship and asserts that sustainable dental practices are overlooked. Kamodia is working to change that by collaborating with five other Dow Fellows representing seven U-M schools and colleges (see collaborators and units below).

The team conducted a research project to address the scarcity of sustainable dentistry data and resources. To this end, they reviewed current research on sustainability in healthcare and performed a case study at the School of Dentistry. The team examined students’ attitudes toward sustainability and waste reduction methods. Based on their findings, they created a “Greening the Dental Clinic” toolkit. The kit contains information from the case study, including recommendations for how to incorporate sustainability practices into a clinical setting, and has been embraced by the U-M dental school community. The team’s efforts have reduced waste and are saving the school money and resources.

The case study revealed that many dentistry students value sustainability; as a new generation of environmentally-conscious dentists moves into the field, interest in incorporating sustainability into clinical operations will likely grow. To meet that future demand, the team hopes to feature their toolkit on the website of their partner organization Practice Greenhealth, and publish their case study in a dental journal. This will provide practicing dentists with access to the team’s findings and recommendations and help foster a new culture of sustainability within the dental profession.

Currently, the team is working on a pilot project with the School of Dentistry exploring the use of reusable safety glasses.

Made possible by The Dow Chemical Company, the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program at the University of Michigan supports full-time graduate students and postdoctoral scholars at the university who are committed to finding interdisciplinary, actionable, and meaningful sustainability solutions on local-to-global scales. The program prepares future sustainability leaders to make a positive difference in organizations worldwide. We believe that diversity, equity, and inclusion are key to individual empowerment, and the advancement of sustainability knowledge, learning, and leadership. See: