How to Clean & Sterilize Dental Instruments


Dental instruments that are laid out for use during the day must be cleaned and sterilized at the end of the day, whether or not they were actually used. Just by sitting out in a dental office, they can collect bacteria and other contaminants that could be spread to a patient if they are used without proper cleaning and treatment. They must be properly cleaned, sterilized and stored in order to prepare them for future use.

Things You'll Need

  • Non-foaming detergent
  • Disposable drying cloths
  • Sterilization wraps or casettes
  • Sterilization equipment
  • Clean the dental instruments manually or through mechanical means like a thermal washer disinfector or an ultrasonic bath. Infection Control Services says that dental instruments cannot be sterilized properly unless they are thoroughly cleaned beforehand. Manual cleaning should be done in a sink specifically reserved for this purpose and they should be cleaned with non-foaming detergent and a nylon brush. They should be immersed in lukewarm water, scrubbed below the water's surface and then rinsed. If they are being cleaned in a thermal washer disinfector or ultrasonic bath, the process should be done according to the manufacturer's instructions.

  • Afterward cleaning through either manual or mechanical means, the dental instruments should be dried with a disposable cloth.

  • Package the dried items into medical grade sterilization wraps or sterilization cassettes to prepare them for sterilization. They must be properly packaged before they are loaded into the heat sterilization unit.

  • Sterilize the instruments using a heat, steam, or chemical process. Heat is the usual method used in a dental setting. Use sterilization equipment that is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for dental sterilization work and operate it according to the manufacturer's specific instructions.

  • Storage the sterilized instruments in their intact packaging. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the packaging must remain sealed and undamaged in order to retain sterile nature of the instrument. If the packaging gets wet, tears or is damaged in some way, the instrument should be sterilized again through the same process.

Tips & Warnings

  • Some instruments are made of heat sensitive materials that can be damaged by heat sterilization methods. These instruments can be sterilized through the use of a "cold" method, such as a liquid sterilization agent. They should be immersed in the liquid for the length of time recommended by the manufacturer. You should only use a liquid that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for dental use.

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  • Photo Credit Photo: Wikimedia Commons
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