Dental Sterilization

Autoclaves use steam and are either gravity displacement or pre-vacuum-type sterilizers. Temperatures reach approximately 250 degrees F to 273 degrees F. Sterilization times range from four to 30 minutes depending on temperature, whether instruments are wrapped or unwrapped, and manufacturer’s instructions. The drying cycle may be 25 to 40 minutes.

Dry heat sterilizers are either static air or forced air. The high heat and extended time are major factors in achieving sterilization. Temperatures reach approximately 300 degrees F to 375 degrees F. Sterilization times vary from 12 to 150 minutes depending on temperature and manufacturer’s instructions.

Unsaturated chemical vapor sterilizers use a combination of alcohol, formaldehyde, ketone, acetone, and water to create a vapor for sterilizing. The combination of pressure, temperature, and time are the major factors in achieving sterilization. Pressure should measure 20 psi, temperatures should reach 270 degrees F, and sterilization time is approximately 20 to 40 minutes.

All devices used for heat sterilization of dental instruments must be medical sterilization equipment. We always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for sterilization times, temperatures, and other operating parameters, as well as instructions for correct use of containers, wraps, and chemical or biological indicators. Toaster ovens or glass bead sterilizers are not considered acceptable devices for sterilizing dental instruments and could jeopardize patient safety.

Pitfalls in Achieving Sterilization

Interrupting the sterilization cycle, or inadequate time, temperature, or pressure.

Inadequate pre-cleaning of instruments.

Overloading of sterilizer.

Inadequate drying cycle (autoclaves).

Faulty gaskets or seals.

Improper packaging.

Bulky packaging.

Inadequate spacing of instruments.

Improper operation of unit