Thanks to the pervasive influence of the mainstream media, most people are well aware that surgical instruments must be carefully sterilized prior to their use in any medical procedure, in order to protect the safety of the patient. Health professionals, however, realize that sterilization has applications that extend far beyond the ER. Sterilization procedures are routinely used in a wide variety of health-related fields—including dentistry, which we’ll focus on in this article.
In dentistry, a number of techniques and procedures have been developed to deal with the pressing issue of keeping devices free from microbes and other hazardous agents. In many cases, dental practitioners resort to “single-use” devices, such as syringes, brushes, and saliva ejectors; these items, which cannot tolerate conventional sterilization methods, are designed to be discarded immediately after one application. But some devices must be used repeatedly—what then? This is where autoclaves come in. These are high temperature pressure chambers that use carefully regulated steam to sterilize instruments and materials. As one might expect, this is a process that must be carried out with enormous care, as even a slight procedural lapse can compromise patient health. Fortunately, the American Dental Association (ADA) has laid out guidelines—based on recommendations issued by the Center for Disease Control (CDC)—that govern the proper use of autoclaves for this industry; let’s explore these principles in more detail.
Three Factors to Consider when Sterilizing Dental Instruments
Regular inspection of autoclaves is essential for ensuring that they can be depended on to perform their sterilizing function in an acceptable manner. According to the ADA, dental professionals should carefully check three types of indicators when monitoring their autoclaves: chemical, mechanical, and biological.
- Chemical – The use of indicator tapes and other types of chemical indicators can help the technician determine whether the autoclave has reached proper sterilization temperatures. An indicator tape works by changing color if sterilization conditions reach a certain threshold. If the indicator does not respond, it should be assumed that any item being sterilized during that cycle should not be regarded as sterile. The use of this indicator alone is not a guarantee that sterilization was effective.
- Mechanical – It is important to monitor temperature, pressure, and cycle duration while validating or using the autoclave. To accomplish this, technicians typically use high-quality data loggers; in fact, there are several currently available that are specifically designed for use with autoclaves and provide reporting tools for easy data analysis and confirmation.
- Biological – Finally, biological monitoring is important to root out problems with the autoclave and ensure successful sterilization cycles. According to the CDC, an autoclave used in a dental setting should be examined for biological indicators at least once per week. The technician may elect to use spore monitoring strips or resort to a "mail-in" service to check for the presence of harmful microbes.
It’s worth pointing out that, in addition to the above, a dental practice may be subject to state and local regulations that might impose further regulatory obligations. Dental professionals have a responsibility to stay current with any applicable guidelines.
Founded in 1996, MadgeTech, Inc. is dedicated to the development and manufacture of high-quality data loggers and related accessories. Distributed worldwide, the company’s line of products includes temperature, humidity, motion, voltage, water level, and wind loggers, among others. MadgeTech is based in Warner, New Hampshire.