Healthcare infection control has led to increased utilization of disposable medical devices, which has subsequently led to increased adverse environmental effects attributed to healthcare and its supply chain. In dental practice, the dental bur is a commonly used instrument that can either be reused or used once and then disposed. To evaluate the disparities in environmental impacts of disposable and reusable dental burs, a comparative life cycle assessment (LCA) was performed. The comparative LCA evaluated a reusable dental bur (specifically, a 2.00mm Internal Irrigation Pilot Drill) reused 30 instances versus 30 identical burs used as disposables.
The LCA methodology was performed using framework described by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14040 series. Sensitivity analyses were performed with respect to ultrasonic and autoclave loading. Findings from this research showed that when the ultrasonic and autoclave are loaded optimally, reusable burs had 40% less of an environmental impact than burs used on a disposable basis. When the ultrasonic and autoclave were loaded to 66% capacity, there was an environmental breakeven point between disposable and reusable burs. Eutrophication, carcinogenic impacts, non-carcinogenic impacts, and acidification were limited when cleaning equipment (i.e., ultrasonic and autoclave) were optimally loaded. Additionally, the bur’s packaging materials contributed more negative environmental impacts than the production and use of the bur itself. Therefore, less materially-intensive packaging should be used. Specifically, the glass fiber reinforced plastic casing should be substituted for a material with a reduced environmental footprint.