Sterilization in the Dental Practice



In a recent blog post, we discussed the importance of a well-designed sterilization center; once the ideal space is created, it’s important to have the right equipment. When choosing equipment, a few things to consider include:

  • Is the equipment easy to use?
  • Does the chamber size on the equipment support the size trays or cassettes you will be using?
  • Are the electrical requirements 110 or 220 volts? For equipment requiring 220 volts, the office may need to be adapted by an electrician.
  • How long is the sterilization time (including the dry cycle)? Since good sterilization requires drying of instruments prior to removal, it is recommended to run the full drying cycle unless the instrument is going to be used immediately and not stored.

Equipment that is vital to have in the sterilization center includes an autoclave or vacuum sterilizer for processing large capacity. Because CDC guidelines recommend steam sterilization for wrapped and unwrapped critical and semi-critical items that are not sensitive to heat and moisture, two basic types of steam sterilizers are suggested. These include the gravity displacement and the high-speed vacuum sterilizer.

The gravity displacement process relies on gravity to remove air from the sterilizer chamber. Since steam is lighter than air, as it enters the chamber it rises to the top. As the chamber fills with steam, the steam forces the air down and out of the chamber drain.

The high-speed vacuum sterilizer, also known as dynamic air removal process, or mechanical air removal, utilizes a mechanical vacuum pump to suck air from the sterilizer chamber. Since the removal of air is mechanical the total cycle time is less than that of a gravity cycle.

In addition, many offices have a cassette style autoclave that processes items for immediate use in a matter of minutes (minus the drying cycle). For items that will be stored, the equipment would have to run through the drying cycle.

It’s also important that instruments are dried prior to removal from the sterilizer so they aren’t re-contaminated from ambient air and wet packages. A wet package allows bacteria to wick through the material to the inside of the package. Once the wrap or package is dry, this is less likely to happen.

Of course, one of the main factors when it comes to outfitting a sterilization center is following CDC guidelines, which can be found on the CDC website at cdc.gov.

One comment on “Equipping your sterilization center

  1. All good information! As a OSHA consultant, I am constantly training clients on following manufacturer instructions for loading and cycle completion procedures. Thank you for some very fundamental reminders!

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