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Understanding Waste Management: 6 Common Types of Dental Waste and How to Handle Them

Understanding Waste Management: 6 Common Types of Dental Waste and How to Handle Them

With around 195,722 dentists practicing in the U.S. as of 2012 alone, you can bet there are massive amounts of dental waste being produced.

Is your practice in compliance with all the new regulations for waste management?

If you're not sure, it's time to find out!

We've made it very simple with this guide to understanding dental waste management. Here are 6 common types of dental waste and how you can dispose of them properly.

1. Mercury Amalgam

What is Amalgam?

Amalgam is a combination of metals that have been chemically bonded with mercury.

Mercury is a well-known toxin that can harm the environment and people by entering through wastewater used in your office, vapors, or scraps.

Amalgam waste is one of the top dental wastes to be especially cautious with.

How to Get Rid of Amalgam

With the potentially dangerous nature of amalgam waste, the Environmental Protection Agency has created requirements for each office to have an amalgam separator.

These requirements apply to the installation, maintenance, monitoring, and recycling of all amalgam materials.

These essential tools for your office will enable you to easily dispose of this toxic element.

They are usually placed chair-side, and work as filters for wastewater to prevent as much mercury entering the environment as possible.

Amalgam should never be disposed of down a drain, in a sharps container, or in the normal garbage.

Other things to be cautious of when disposing of amalgam:

  • Do recycle used amalgam capsules
  • Do dis-infect and recycle teeth that contain amalgam restorations
  • Do manage amalgam waste through recycling as much as you can
  • Do use line cleaners to reduce dissolution of amalgam and prevent mercury spread
  • Do use pre-capsulated alloys and make sure you have various different capsule sizes
  • Do NOT use bulk mercury
  • Do NOT put used amalgam products into red bags or biohazard containers
  • Do NOT rinse tools or products containing amalgam over sinks or drains
  • Do NOT use bleach or chlorine cleaners to rinse out wastewater drains
  • Do NOT put non-contact amalgam in the normal garbage, infectious waste containers, or biohazard waste containers

Amalgam separators are the required standard for disposal as they can help increase the removal efficiency from the previous amount of 80% to a removal amount of 95%.

2. Wastes Containing Silver

What is Silver?

Silver is a naturally occurring metal, abundant in the makeup of the earth itself.

Fortunately, silver is one of the milder metals dentists and their teams will come into contact with.

It may not have as potentially adverse effects on human health as, say, lead or mercury, but it can still cause great environmental harm.

How to Dispose of Silver

Many practices no longer need to worry as much about this type of waste management as x-ray fixers have now been widely replaced by digital imaging.

However, if your office continues to use an x-ray fixer, you need to be certain it is not washed down the drain as it contains a high silver content.

Instead, have an in-house silver recovery device installed to catch all silver waste.

Silver can also be placed in a biomedical waste dispenser.

Some dispensers including a 5-gallon tub can help absorb all x-ray fixer silver. These dispensers can also be purchased in smaller tubs, or a fixer recovery unit can be used for proper waste management.

3. Bloody Gauze

We realize how nasty this type of waste sounds, but you know it's also quite common for your dental office...

In fact, any type of waste containing blood must be handled properly to avoid the spread of disease.

Some such ways include:

  • Placing bloody/used gauze into puncture-resistant and leak-proof red disposable bags
  • Placing it in a leak-proof container with the biohazard symbol

Resist the temptation to dispose of used gauze in the normal garbage.

4. Sterilizing Chemicals and Disinfectants

Basically, this type of waste management should apply to all chemicals, but especially any used for sterilization.

Many of these chemicals are federally regulated so be especially educated on and aware of compliance regulations for these types of chemicals and their disposal methods.

If you're in doubt of how to handle these chemicals, contact a biomedical waste provider and seek instruction.

These chemicals can be greatly harmful to the environment, so when possible, try sterilizing tools with either dry heat or steam.

5. Sharps

You've been using them since dental school, so odds are you're well aware of the proper disposal guidelines.

However, here's a refresher just to be safe.

Any sharps container must be puncture proof, (for obvious reasons), leak-proof, and properly labeled as such.

They also need to be placed in easy access locations for whomever will be using them. This being said, however, you need to sure not to have them located in high-traffic areas.

Sharps containers should never be placed in the following areas:

  • Inside a cabinet
  • Next to a light switch
  • Under a sink

6. Wastes Containing Lead

What is Lead?

That's right, yet another highly dangerous chemical dentists deal with is lead.

Unfortunately, there is no safe amount of exposure to lead. Lead is a neurotoxin with irreversible effects.

At very high levels of exposure, lead can be fatal. At the very least, it causes neurological challenges.

How to Get Rid of Lead

Lead is serious business. In fact, the handling of lead-based products and chemicals should not be the dentist or his employee's business.

It should be handled by a licensed hazardous waste disposal group.

If for some reason you don't have a company currently employed to handle all your lead-based waste disposal, it's time to get one. Stat.

Some lead-containing products can include lead aprons (they can contain lead foil), or x-ray packets.

Get Started on Proper Waste Management

At the end of the day, proper waste management compliance effects not only you and your business but the environment and people you work with every day.

Don't risk legal troubles, loss of reputation, or harm to others by simple lack of understanding.

For help with getting started, contact us at Dental Recycling North America today.