Paying Attention on the Sterilization of Dental Equipment

Today’s busy dental practices face a serious challenge: to maintain or increase productivity while ensuring that patient safety remains a top priority. At times, these may seem like incompatible goals. Advances in dental equipment, however, have empowered practices to develop safer processes while realizing efficiencies and ultimately, saving money.

Use of closed-system cassettes reduces the risk to dental healthcare professionals when executing infection control programs. When using ultrasonic scalers, washers and dental autocalve sterilizers, it is important to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. It is also important to consult with the manufacturer of dental instruments and devices as needed to ensure complete sterilization and to avoid damage to these items.

Most dental offices have a designated area for instrument reprocessing that is separate from the dental treatment room. This is ideal, since cleaning, sterilizing and storing instruments in the same room where the delivery of patient care is provided increases the risk of cross-contamination. The removal and disposal of single-use sharps such as needles, blades, orthodontic wires and glass must be done at the point of use, typically in the dental treatment room.

Some instruments and materials are single-use only. Single-use items should be segregated in the operatory, and those that are sharp or otherwise pose a risk of injury must be discarded into a sharps container. Items without risk, such as a saliva ejector, can be thrown into the trash. Finally, the tray or cassette of reusable instruments is taken to the cleaning and sterilization area for processing.

To prevent accidental injury with the contaminated instruments, special handling should be used to transport the instruments to the cleaning and sterilization area. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that, “Contaminated instruments should be handled carefully to prevent exposure to sharp instruments that can cause percutaneous injury. Instruments should be placed in an appropriate container at the point of use to prevent percutaneous injuries during transport to the instrument processing area.” In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says, “The person handling the instruments through removal, cleaning, packaging and sterilization needs to use heavy-duty gloves to help prevent injury with sharp contaminated instruments.”

Although heavy-duty gloves (utility gloves) may feel more awkward than examination gloves, they provide extra protection while handling instruments during the cleaning, rinsing, drying, packaging and sorting procedures that take place during instrument reprocessing. The fine tactile sensitivity needed during dental procedures is not necessary during instrument cleaning and sterilization; therefore, heavy-duty gloves pose no problem in this regard. Additionally, nitrile utility gloves are available in a variety of sizes, allowing a more secure fit.