Infection Control, Part II: Sterilizing Instruments

Infection control is vital to providing excellent dental services, and Dr. Carol Ford takes steps in both barrier control—the protections you see–and sterilization control, which you won’t see, in her Phoenix office. “Every step we take to protect a patient also protects our staff, the people in the waiting room, and the people they can come in contact with. That adds up to a lot of protection,“ Dr. Ford explains.

The precautions that happen in all dental offices are called universal precautions and are established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Dental Association.

In Dr. Ford’s office, the instruments are sterilized in ways that prevent both bacterial and viral diseases from being passed on. Several different sterilization methods work well, depending on the material used in the manufacture of the instruments.

dr_ford_phoenix_dentist“As a patient, you won’t see anything except clean instruments,” says Dr. Ford, “the equipment is in another room, not the treatment room.”  The cleaning methods include an autoclave (steam under pressure) for metal instruments. Steam can cause some carbon steel instruments to rust, so they are sterilized in a dry heat oven. Instruments that might be damaged by high heat are sterilized in a chemiclave that uses chemical vapor.

Equipment that can’t be sterilized—needles and saliva drains, for example–is used once and discarded in a special sealed container.

“For all the sterilization methods we use, the most likely source of infection is the patient,” said Dr. Ford. People don’t want to cancel their dental appointment and they often come in sick. “If you are running a fever or can’t keep your mouth open comfortably without coughing, you may want to reschedule,” says Dr. Ford.

Dr. Ford welcomes questions about the steps her office takes in infection control. The American Dental Association offers patients a list of questions to ask their dentist if they are concerned about office procedures:

What are the things to look for?

  • Is the dental office clean and orderly?
  • Is the dental staff helpful and willing to answer your questions?
  • Do the dentist and staff wear gloves and other appropriate protective gear during all actual patient treatment?
  • Do the dentist and staff wash their hands before donning a clean pair of gloves?
  • Do all surfaces and equipment in the treatment room appear clean?
  • Are needles and other sharp items disposed of in special puncture-resistant containers?
  • Is everything that is used in the patient’s mouth either heat sterilized or disposable?

Much of infection control happens without your knowing it, but it happens. You can feel confident that when you visit Dr. Ford’s office, it’s a clean, safe place to keep your smile healthy and white.

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