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Green Failures: The Little Plastic Goodie Bag of Crap from the Dentist

English: A little girl has her first visit to ...

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I just took my daughter to the dentist.  I have greened so many areas of our family life, and plastic bags do not enter our home.  Well, except from the dentist.

At the end of every dental visit, you get that little plastic bag decorated with molars and telling you to smile.  The goodie bag contains a toothbrush, floss, a little tube of toothpaste, and for children stickers and pencils.  This little plastic bag is irksome.  It is too small to be reusable.  We would never use that toothpaste.

Why can’t I stand up to the dental hygienist and say, “No plastic bag, no tube of toothpaste please”.  No goodie bag!

 RDH, a magazine for dental hygienists, explains:

If you’re like me, you’ve been handing out goodie bags to patients since the first day of your first job. The goodie bag is as ubiquitous as prophy paste in most dental offices. Patients expect them, practice owners are used to providing them, and hygienists fill them by the hundreds…

Offering a goodie bag is not exactly advertising (creating awareness of a product, dentistry in this case), and it’s not exactly marketing (creating demand for a product). What a goodie bag does best is help create goodwill toward your office. In business, goodwill is defined as “an intangible asset that provides a competitive advantage, such as a strong brand or reputation.” (www.investorwords.com) The value of goodwill can’t be underestimated. Goodwill is what keeps a family loyal to a dental home, and what spurs them to recommend your office to others.

 I don’t feel goodwill.  I feel guilt.

I have no problem rudely interrupting a cashier and making them take my items out of a plastic bag.  What do I fear at the dentist?  Am I worried they will discover that I am an eco-freak?  Um, they probably already know that.

I vow next visit to the dentist, there will be no plastic bag. There will be no toothpaste or floss sample. There will be nothing that we will toss when we get home.


  1. If I felt that strongly about that, I would care less if a dentist thought I was an eco-freak.

  2. I don’t think they would mind at all if you said “no thank you.” I would make sure to be polite though. They are messing with your teeth… :-)

  3. You just made me love my dentist even more! He blows up a rubber glove for my son, draws a face on it and that´s his reward for being a good patient.
    I agree though, I don´t think it´s a big deal to say “no thank you” to the goodie bag. You don´t even have to give them a reason therefore they will never know you´re an eco-freak! 😉

  4. When i get the goodie bag i would just empty it’s contents into your purse and hang it back to them and say please reuse this.

  5. Hey, if you don’t want the bag, don’t take the bag. But really, the bag is NOTHING compared to the toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss that you apparently also throw out. Here’s the thing about plastic bags at the dentist: they don’t hurt the environment. Seriously… they don’t. Well, unless you are one of those idiots that just tosses your trash out the window of your car. Plastic bags are 100% recyclable, made from natural gas, and benign in a landfill (which is important since the biggest problems at landfills is methane offgassing and toxins leaching into groundwater – plastic bags just sit there).

    But seriously, if you don’t want the stuff the dentist is giving you, don’t take it. that simple. That’s what I do – my dentist actually hands stuff out in fancy vinyl zippered pouches… which might be handy if you have one, but for our family, it’s six of the things a year and there is no way we can reuse those.

  6. I don’t like those things either, but I firmly believe there’s never an excuse to be rude.

  7. As the wife of a dentist, don’t worry about the bag!! If you don’t want the stuff, that’s fine. The office would rather not send you home with stuff you don’t like or won’t use. It can be saved and given to those who like and/or want the contents. No one in the office will be offended. The hygienist may be confused (the first time) because we’re conditioned in this culture to always take free stuff.

    I personally never take the goodie bag because I don’t use the toothpaste given, the floss is too short to be worth my time and I have the luxury of grabbing toothbrushes as needed. I’m trying to convince my husband to go for the Preserve toothbrushes but right now the program is too expensive to be installed in individual dental offices. http://www.preserveproducts.com/products/personalcare/toothbrush-mail-back-pack.html

    Don’t worry about the bag. Just make sure you brush and floss on a regular basis. That will leave a greater impression on your dentist and hygienist more than whether you take the bag or not.

  8. This is a very interesting point. I work in a dental office and have never thought of it. I recycle, use reusable bags for shopping, our office recycles everything from paper to the gold and silver from old fillings. But this is definitely an interesting point of distinction here. I personally LOVE getting my goodie bag but this post is making re-think our office’s practice. Thank you for the insight. http://www.gatewaydentalsmiles.com/blog

  9. If you felt strongly about re-useing products to be eco-friendly you can find a way to use the “small” tube of toothpaste the dentist so kindly gives to you (at least you could say thank you). Here are a few ways those ‘small’ tubes of toothpaste work well: while traveling on a plane and your amount of space is limited, when packing an over-nite bag for your child or yourself, take to work so you can brush after a lunch where you ate onions or an unusual amount of garlic. So next time you visit your dentist, the least you can say for that small gesture is thank you.

  10. if this bothers you THAT much, your next professional visit should likely be tot he psychiatrist

  11. A dental office, and other health-care facilities, do leave a large “carbon foot print”. Thats just the nature of the beast to maintain infectious control. but, It is a pleasant reminder the importance of not being intentionally wasteful. Go green wherever possible (i.e.; use a recyclable brown paper bag or re-usable tot bag for dental goodies) Also, it is important for the dental office you choose to reflect your values ( holistic alternatives, “go-green” principles). I also find it important for the Dental hygienist to be a considerate toward your personal choices and to cater a oral health care plan that keeps that in mind. For example, you are a patient that likes a more holistic approach to your oral hygiene routine, the Dental hygienist should be educated and provide samples that comply with your preferences in mind.


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