Eco bytes: the green scene

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Eco bytes: the green sceneSiblings Mauro Cozzolino and Nadia Boermans are at the forefront of green dentistry, discovers Frank Leggett.

Two dental practices—one in New South Wales and one in Victoria—have embraced green initiatives with gusto. Both are dedicated to performing high-quality dentistry using the latest technology while remaining environmentally friendly and minimising their carbon footprint.

Amalgam separators and plaster traps are just a start at both Bytes of Byron [in northern NSW] and Bytes of Northcote [in Melbourne’s northern suburbs]. The practices are virtually paper free and anything that can be recycled is recycled. All cleaning products are environmentally friendly, instruments are disinfected using steam sterilisation and the walls are painted with non-toxic Ecolour eco-paint. There are also bike racks for staff and the disposable cups that patients use to rinse and spit are CFC-free and biodegradable.

Nadia Boermans, co-owner and practice manager of Bytes of Northcote, is not a dentist and blames her brother, Mauro Cozzolino, for getting her into the dentistry game. Cozzolino opened Bytes of Byron two years ago.

“I was introduced to the dental business when I designed and built a practice in Ballina [in NSW] with my then partner,” says Cozzolino. “She was a dentist and I looked after everything else—the administration work, HR, staffing, ordering. The skills I gained running that office were invaluable when I decided to set up my own practice in Byron Bay. From the outset, I wanted to make it as environmentally friendly as possible.”

Boermans recalls, “I was living in Melbourne and was planning to open a retail store. When I discussed this with Mauro, he suggested I open a dental practice and invited me to Byron Bay to see his in action.”

Adds Cozzolino: “Bytes of Byron had recently won a World Environment Day Award and I knew this would inspire her.”

And inspire her, it did. Boermans returned to Melbourne determined to start her own green dental practice. Going into partnership with her brother, they used the Bytes of Byron layout and flow of work as a template for the Northcote practice. This made it possible to build the new surgery in only eight weeks.

The site of Boermans’ future practice was an old health spa and beauty salon, conveniently divided into a number of rooms. Creating a dental practice from scratch made the integration of green technology and materials relatively simple. Two rooms were immediately turned into surgeries while a third was prepped for conversion at a later date.

The space was mainly illuminated by LED lighting and the few remaining halogen globes were quickly replaced. Amalgam separators were plumbed-in, along with plaster traps to ensure no plaster entered the waterways. The roof is well placed to take solar panels although they’re operating on mains power at the moment.

“We are going to run the practice for a year to see what our usage is like,” says Boermans. “Then we’ll fit the largest solar unit we can. It appears we will be able to generate more energy than we need and put power back into the grid. I want the practice to be carbon positive in the future.”

Bytes of Northcote opened for business in March this year and Boermans immediately applied for certification from the Eco-Dentistry Association. There is an extensive list of benchmarks that need to be met before certification is granted. Eight major categories, each containing multiple initiatives, must be addressed using green alternatives and eco-friendly choices. Cozzolino’s practice in Byron Bay received certification two years ago and Boermans was thrilled when her practice also qualified for certification.

One area where Boermans and Cozzolino are very passionate is in the use of Biocompatible BPA-free composite fillings.

“BPA has been linked to a number of health problems including infertility,” says Cozzolino. “It has been removed from plastic drinking bottles but dentists are placing it in people’s mouths. We use the only BPA-free composite resin available in Australia—Venus Pearl by Heraeus Kulzer.”

They are also committed to running their practices completely paperless. “Even our registration process is done on a laminated sheet,” says Boermans. “The patient just fills it in with a whiteboard marker and we scan it straight into the computer. It’s then wiped clean and ready for the next patient to come in.”

Both practices carry green products that patients can purchase. Bytes of Northcote has bamboo toothbrushes with charcoal bristles, Honest Gum, Cranberry Vegan Floss, the Jack and Jill range of tooth products for children, and vegan toothpaste that’s fluoride-free. Bytes of Byron carries the Eco-Dent range of natural oral care products.

Boermans also wanted her practice to look like it had nothing to do with dentistry so she added an art gallery.
“A lot of people are anxious about visiting the dentist, but when they come to my practice it looks more like a funky gallery,” she says. “Every three months, we install a new exhibition by a local artist. We have therapeutic oils that smell like vanilla and cloves, and the colour palette is very warm and inviting. Instead of waiting nervously, patients can wander the gallery and take in the art.”

Although the Northcote practice has been in operation for less than a year, the business model envisaged by Cozzolino is working extremely well. The practice employs five dentists, a large rotating shift of nurses and they are about to employ a hygienist. Both Boermans and Cozzolino have found that being a non-dentist owner has some distinct advantages. “It works really well because it frees up the dentist to actually do the dentistry rather than be worried about the business side of things,” says Cozzolino.

Boermans sees the environmentally friendly initiatives used in the Bytes practices as the way of the future and has some suggestions for those dentists that would like to go green.

“Just take your time,” she says. “Start small and build it up. Our cleaning products are hospital-grade but they’re all non-toxic and biodegradable. Consider going digital when it’s time to update the X-ray machine. Install LED lights and recycle water. All our taps have sensors so there’s no way we can leave taps running. There are dozens of simple things that are good for the environment and will actually save you money in the long run.”

The green initiatives instituted by Cozzolino and Boermans have helped build their businesses quickly. While the majority of their patients are locals, people are willing to travel great distances to attend their surgeries. Their business model has been so successful that two more green Bytes practices will open shortly—one in the Sydney suburb of Paddington and one at Mermaid Beach in Queensland. “And this is only the beginning,” says Cozzolino.

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