Dentistry has found a new patient—the environment.

Ora, a completely eco-friendly dentistry and oral surgery suite not only has patients’ health in mind, but the environment, too.

Meet Steve Koos, the mastermind who’s bridging the gap between health care and the planet. Koos says he’s taking a tenant from the Hippocratic Oath, “do no harm” a step further.  In his eyes, what’s good for the patient should also be good for the environment.

“As a health care provider, I think that we have a responsibility collectively to also do no harm to the environment. We need to realize in general that human health and environmental health are inextricably linked,” says Koos.

Koos is pioneering a new wave of patient services in the Midwest—green healthcare, an emerging practice he hopes other practitioners and health care providers notice and follow suit.

His studio is the nation’s first green oral surgery practice where he not only practices green health care, but also provides less invasive, preventative and precautionary methods in a completely eco-friendly building and environment.

Its waiting room feels more like the lobby of a five-star hotel than that of a dentistry and oral surgery practice. Patients won’t spot an open room of different dental stations and turquoise chairs; it’s all tucked away behind doors constructed out of recycled, reused and eco-friendly materials, in rooms with iPod connection capabilities, flat-screen EnergyStar TVs that tap into a selection of BluRay DVDs and other eco-luxuries.

Everything from the floors, to the ceiling tiles, from the toothbrushes, to the metal reusable suction tips, to reusable cloth sterilization pouches—everything, literally, at Ora, Oral Surgery and Implant Studio, was chosen and is used with the environment in mind. The practice, opened late last year in the South Loop, is LEED certified and follows both the guidelines of the United States Green Building Council and of Green Guide for Health Care. While Koos and his practice have achieved a lot in term of paving the way for this new type of health care, his ambitions don’t stop there.

Koos who is in his early 40s, says he’s been conscious of the environment throughout his life, rethinking the use of different materials, recycling, but didn’t think to take it into his own work, but when it dawned on him, he says it made perfect sense.

“It was actually appalling to me at when I started to break down how much waste that I experienced and generated in a hospital and private practice setting,” says Koos. “It really took a complete slant in trying to look at things in a new direction in trying to implement things initially.”

Koos says he read for months and months on environmental topics to get his idea going.  But, hearing Koos speak you would think he’s been an environmentalist all his life, naming toxins and chemicals left and right, noting their harmful faults and listing off alternatives to all that don’t harm the environment.

His practice is free of PBTs, persistent bio-accumulative toxins and VOCs, volatile organic compounds, and instead, use things such as Konecto flooring, a linoleum-like product that requires no harmful adhesives.

Koos used his newfound knowledge and guidelines from the Green Guide for Health Care to get detailed down-to-the-point information on where he could find tools to use so his office would be PVC-free, such as syringes, IV tubing and bags. Even the aprons used for his state-of-the-art, less-radiating, x-ray machine contain no lead.

Koss says he learns something new everyday about the environment and how to integrate that consciousness into his care. He admits he’s made some mistakes along the way.

Koos bought prescription vials made out of No. 5 plastic, a type of plastic that is harder to recycle than others. He soon realized the difficulty and implemented a new system of using reusable paper envelopes to distribute patient medication. In the near future, he plans to start up a prescription take back program not only for his patients, but for the community.

Too many times patients are prescribed medication after procedures but either don’t end up using it all, says Koos. When it expires, or is no longer needed, people often flush it down the toilet where it gets into the water supply, where locally, Lake Michigan’s water has tested positive for small amounts of pharmaceuticals.

Koos wants that to stop.

He hopes to be resource where his patients and others can come and drop off their old prescription bottles and unused medications to properly dispose of without it having negative effects on the environment, or well-being of others—something else he’s ingrained into his green philosophy.

Not only at concern for his patients and nature, Koos says his practice’s environment offers a healthier place for his employees to work without exposure to harmful chemicals and toxins found in traditional health care facilities. Koos who says he carpools to work and takes public transportation in the summer, has an area for patients and employees to store their bikes, and a locker room changing area.

His practices locations, he says, were carefully chosen to be accessible by public transportation and also close to pharmacies and shops patients would use.

Koos recently completed a leadership in green health care course and is on his way to becoming a LEED accredited professional for commercial interiors. His current locations in the South and West Loops will soon grow to four by 2010 with new locations to be opened in the next two years in River East and Wicker Park, both designed and operated in typical Koos fashion.

Koos and his practice recently participated in the Green Festival and the CleanMed conferences in May.

He hopes other health care facilities investigate the benefits of not only having a green office and environment, but those of green health care as he firmly believes health is two-fold: people’s health, and the health of the environment. While the costs of doing so may be higher in the beginning, the benefits of doing so pay off financially and environmentally.

“We’re not just a dental office and an oral surgery office providing state-of-the-art treatment,” says Koos. “We want the message to come across that this is a care and healing facility—both in how things occur here and the thought behind it, building it and the way that it’s run and the responsibility we feel that we have [in] extending that Hippocratic oath, do no harm during practice, but do more good.”

Mindful Metropolis, June 2009


Download PDF