If there was a "Cleanest Person in the World Award," dentists could definitely be candidates, because they don't just clean teeth. They also make sure everything in their office is clean and their instruments are sanitized -- as they should be.
Dentists and medical professionals are required to sterilize their instruments to protect both patients and practitioners from possible infectious diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Dental Association (ADA) require specific heat sterilization processes for dental offices to follow.
The following are some recommended autoclave sterilizers used in dentistry:
Steam Autoclave Sterilizer -- This type of sterilizer commonly uses heated, vaporized water, or steam in layman's language, to sterilize. Autoclaves can also kill microorganisms with various other methods. Though steaming is the most popular method of sterilization used all over the world, it has a few disadvantages. Steam autoclave sterilizers can deteriorate some unprotected instruments.
Dry Heat Autoclave -- Because this uses dry heat, as its name implies, it is used for instruments that can be damaged by moisture.
Gas Autoclave -- Also known as chemiclaves, these sterilize with a vapor solution in low humidity. It requires less heat-up time and are generally used for instruments that may be damaged by heat such as plastic, rubber and fiber optic devices.
Cold Sterilization Autoclave -- This was developed for high-level disinfection using a cold sterilization liquid.
Ultraviolet Autoclave -- This sterilizer produces UV light that kills microorganisms.
These sterilization equipment are not usually found in the dentist's treatment room, but you can always ask to see how it is done.
Aside from sterilization, dentists follow other cleanliness and safety guidelines set by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to protect not just dentists and their staff, but also their patients from injury and illness. The use of gloves, for example, is one such measure.
If you ever feel uneasy about the infection control practices of your dentist's office, don't hesitate to talk to them. The ADA also recommends being observant of the office environment and staff habits. Besides sterilizers and disposing of everything used in a patient's mouth, a good dental office must have or do the following:
- A clean and orderly office
- Use gloves and other protective gear during dental treatment
- Promptly wash hands before wearing a clean pair of gloves
- Dispose of needles and other sharp objects in puncture-resistant containers
As a patient, you have every right to ensure that your dentist and staff can guarantee a clean and germ-free environment for you.