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Dental Sterilization Guide For Private Practices

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It’s a given that patients expect their dental office to be gleaming. Patients visit because they’re concerned about their hygiene. A top dental practice will scream ‘clean’ before you even get in the door.

But a sparkling clean dental office doesn’t come about by chance. It’s the result of a rigorous cleaning protocol, followed by all employees. Dental sterilization procedures are at the heart of that.

What does dental sterilization involve? Read on for all you need to know.

Regulation of Dental Sterilization Practices

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets specific workplace safety standards. These touch on hazard recognition, control, and prevention. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) sets specific dental sterilization standards.

The CDC guidelines set the standards. Read them before creating dental sterilization protocols for a dental practice. The key recommendations of the guideline are to:

  • Clean and sterilize reusable equipment between patients
  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions for sterilization
  • Train specific team members in reprocessing protocols
  • Wear appropriate PPE during reprocessing procedures
  • Use the correct sterilization equipment/chemical for the equipment

The CDC also categorize all patient-care items in the following way:

  • Critical items – surgical items that penetrate soft tissue or bone
  • Semicritical items – mirrors, impression trays, etc
  • Noncritical items – items that only come into contact with the skin

The CDC requires sanitizing all critical and semicritical items with heat. Sterilize instruments between patients to reduce the risk of infection.

The CDC also provides the Infection Prevention Checklist for Dental Settings. Use this to ensure that appropriate policies are in place check staff are compliant.  Dental practices need to use this to ensure that they are maintaining the highest of standards.

Regulation During COVID-19

OSHA does not have a specific set of standards for the dental profession. During COVID-19, OSHA has set out specific guidelines on the use of dental equipment. Certain procedures are strictly regulated for the protection of patients and staff.

Especially now, it is vital to follow all dental sterilization protocols in full. This will reduce opportunities for COVID-19 pathogens to spread.

For example, they require the use of eye protection as well as facemasks at this time. This provides extra protection for staff members.

Day to Day Dental Sterilization – What It Looks Like

First of all, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all dental sterilization. Because of this, guidelines will vary from instrument to instrument. Following the CDC guidelines, we should sterilize all critical and semicritical items using heat.

Cleaning and Sterilizing

Each piece of equipment will have a strict cleaning and sterilizing protocol. It is the dentist’s responsibility to ensure they provide appropriate training. All staff should know the CDC guidelines. Training in the practice protocol and accurate record-keeping is also vital.

First, remove any blood or other bodily fluids that are on the equipment. Staff should be trained on the correct use of PPE to avoid blood-borne pathogens. Follow cleaning protocols to remove this visible debris carefully.

Heat Sterilization

There are two types of sterilization that use heat – dry heat and steam sterilization.

Dry heat sterilization takes the items to a higher temperature than using steam or other vapors. It usually operates between 320°F-375°F. There are two types – static-air type and forced-air type. The forced air type operates more efficiently as the heat circulates through the chamber.

Steam sterilizers use steam to bring the instruments up to a temperature and kill pathogens. They are suitable for many applications, but some will need the higher heat of a dry heat sterilizer.

The protocol will dictate the type, temperature, and time needed to sterilize each piece of equipment.

Maintaining Sterilizer Safety

Most critical and semicritical equipment requires both cleaning and sterilizing using heat. Check the sterilizer to ensure that it is reaching the conditions needed to achieve sterilization.

There are three ways of monitoring the system:

  • Biological indicators/spore tests
  • Mechanical indicators
  • Chemical indicators

Biological indicators or spore tests are the most accurate. However, they also take the longest. Your dental sterilization protocol should include weekly or more frequent sport tests. Because the results take time, mechanical and chemical indicators should also be used.

A mechanical check means monitoring the gauges, displays, temperature settings, and exposure time. This test ensures the machine is functioning well.

A chemical test involves using chemicals that change colour when you expose them to high temperatures. These results are immediate. Include a chemical indicator with every package that goes through the sterilizer.

This lets the operative quickly check whether it reached the required temperature. If the machine fails to activate the indicator, you should not use the instruments. Check the machine again before further use.

Maintaining Accurate Records

An experienced dentist knows that a rigorous sterilization protocol leaves nothing to chance. Accurate records are central to maintaining standards. Document every time equipment is sterilized, and that it passed the chemical test.

Document the results of all mechanical and biological tests taken.

Storage of Sanitized Equipment

Once sanitized, hygienic storage is very important. Covered or closed drawers and cabinets are ideal. Inspect each packet and instrument before use.

Sterilize any broken or damaged packets again.

The Importance of Getting Dental Sterilization Right

It’s been a tough year for dentists across the country, with the need to adapt to changing times. Strong dental sterilization protocols have helped many to meet the extra demands of COVID-19. Good training also ensures the practice meets CDC requirements and everyone stays safe.

Your sterilization protocols may be top drawer, but how is your inventory management? At Sowingo, we provide all the resources you need to run a successful dental practice. Our tools allow dental professionals to manage inventory supplies and reduce practice costs.

Book a demo over Zoom to see how our tools can take your dental practice to the next level.

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