Dental Sterilization Process

Dental Instrument Sterilization:

Sterilization in the dental profession is important and plays a vital part in preventing cross contamination, and spreading disease between patients. When the proper sterilization process for dental instruments is followed this risk is far lessened. The challenge dentists are finding is a balance between quality sterilization and productivity.

Dentist need to be able to work quickly, remain chairside, while having direct access to their equipment to eliminate wasted time, yet at the same time keep their patient’s free of germ and disease transmission. To ensure both speed and sterilization most dentists use a five step process to sterilize equipment.

The Five Step Process for Sterilizing Dental Instruments:

The proper sterilization process for dental instruments has five steps. Each step is designed to:

*Remove risk of cross contamination
*Ensure ADA and CDC compliance for sterilization
*Increase in-office productivity
*Protect patients

Quick Note: There are multiple types of sterilization available to dentists. Dentists can use dry heat, chemical vapor, or steam sterilization. The process below focuses on the steam autoclave which is most commonly used, because dry heat is limited practice because most handpieces won’t tolerate high heat and chemical vapor is costly produces strong odors.

1) Instrument Transportation:

Instruments that need sterilized are packaged in ‘cassettes’. This serves a dual purpose. Cassettes not only make it easy to transport the dental instruments they also ensure against cross contamination after the sterilization process. This way all sharp dental explorers and/or knife edges are kept from being accidentally touched and contaminated to or from the staff that assists in sterilizing the instruments.

2) Cassette and Instrument Packaging:

The cassettes, now filled with instruments, are packaged in either self-sealing sterilization pouches or wrap. Once packaged the cassette with the equipment is inserted into the autoclave. The wrap is held together with tape or made of a material that changes color after sterilization. This way packs that are sterilized to not get mixed up this unsterilized packs.

3) The Autoclave Process and how it works:

In most dental practices equipment is sterilized by saturated steam. The sterilizer (or autoclave) works by pressurizing a chamber 100% with steam while removing all air inside the chamber. Once the chamber is up to sterilization temperature it turns on a timer. Once the timer counts down it vents the steam then letting air back in to the chamber. It then applies heat to let the cassettes fully dry – this is known as the “dry cycle”. If a cassette/pack did not get exposed to hot enough consistent temperatures or did not dry at the end of the exposure process the instruments would then have to be run through the process again. Once fully sterilized these cassettes are moved to clean storage.

At the end of the autoclave process if the wrapped cassettes and sterilization pouches did not change color it is possible that the sterilizer is not working right and you may need an autoclave repair.

4) Cassette Storage:

Post sterilization the cassettes with the equipment in them are labeled and stored in a sterile environment until needed. This way they are not mixed with unsterile cassettes. Cassettes and equipment are stored until they are needed at chairside.

5) Chairside Instrument Delivery:

The cassette full of sterile instruments are brought out to chairside. The sterile packaging is open using sterile latex gloves. This prevents any cross contamination at the chairside. Once the dental procedure is over tools get handed off for the sterilization process again.

Want To Learn More:

The sterilization process for dental instruments is crucial to protecting patients, ensuring your instruments last a long time and the clinician staying productive while chairside. If you are interested in knowing more about the process, you may want to check other agencies like the CDC and ADA.

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