No matter the size of a dental practice, the importance of clinical waste management is just as big as in the largest healthcare facilities of the world. The optimal management of steam sterilization (both after and before the use of dental instruments) plays a vital role in the efficiency of the medical staff’s work, as well as the safety of dentists and patients alike, by ensuring a sterile working environment that is free of infectious clinical waste and equipment.

Thankfully, instruments like autoclaves are among the most modern tools dental practices can choose from, and are extremely efficient at handling the sterilization of dental instruments. Still, there is variety of steam sterilizers to choose from, as they can not only vary in size, but in performance (like the amount of dental equipment it can process in one load, and the time it requires to do so). In the following article, you will learn all you need to know about dental steam sterilizers, as well as how they can help the day-to-day activities of your dental practice.

What are dental autoclaves?

The management of clinical waste and dental procedures requires highly skilled dentists, but even the best doctor can’t use the full extent of his capacities if he isn’t supplied by the most appropriate tools. No matter which angle you approach this from, an efficient dental practice methodology has to leave behind satisfied employees and patients (who are also your customers). In order to do this, you will of course need good dental tools, as well as the best autoclaves for steam sterilization, so your staff can use sterile and appropriately stocked tools.

So what exactly is steam sterilization, and why do we emphasize its importance so much? Basically, it is a highly effective and thorough method for disinfection, since it can destroy any kind of living organisms: it doesn’t matter what kind of bacteria or spore there is on the surface of the instruments, or what kind of pathogenic and non-pathogenic organisms can be found on it. After the steam sterilization process, your tools will be free of all living microorganisms. That is the definition of sterile dental instruments.

As for the way you choose to sterilize your tools, you must choose a method that can be standardized, repeated every day, with results that can be both verified and documented. Over the years, there have been many forms of sterilization like dry heat and chemical steam, but none have proven as reliable as dental autoclaves, also known as steam sterilizers.

Autoclaves in the dental industry work in cycles, with the end product being sterile tools. They are essentially pressure chambers, which use high pressure steam at temperatures over 100 degrees Celsius to kill all microorganisms on the loads you put inside them. Think of them as pressure cookers, or highly effective washing machines! Their effectiveness has also been proven outside of dental uses, as autoclaves are present in other areas of medicine, such as microbiology, prosthetics fabrication, and even tattoo and piercing shops!

What are the phases of the dental steam sterilization process?

A dental autoclave’s function can usually be split into 5 steps:

  1. In the preliminary phase of steam sterilization, the dental autoclave’s pump will clear all the air present in the sterilization chamber to create a vacuum. This is important because otherwise, the air inside would act as a sort of barrier that would prevent the steam to reach all tools in equal proportions.
  2. After all the air has left the dental autoclave’s chamber, steam will start flowing inside. The pressure inside the chamber will be greater than that of the atmospheric one, which will increase the boiling point of water. Thanks to that, the vapor inside can reach hotter temperatures ranging from 121 to 134 degrees Celsius (depending on the model you choose).
  3. When the temperature inside the dental autoclave’s chamber reaches its boiling point, all equipment inside is kept there for a predetermined amount of time set by the manufacturer of the dental steam sterilizer. This is essentially when the machine can actually start killing off the germs with the help of the high-pressure steam that has reached a temperature over 100 degrees Celsius.
  4. After having killed off all germs, the steam comes out of the chamber, and all tools inside are vacuum-dried.
  5. Finally, as the last phase of the dental steam sterilization cycle, the pressure inside the chamber is decreased to the original atmospheric level.

After this the instruments can be stored and used again for clinical and surgical purposes!

So what kind of autoclave should a dental practice use?

While dental autoclaves are definitely the way to go, since the popularity of steam sterilizers is constantly on the rise, there is a huge array of products you can choose from. You may find different results depending on the sources you check, but there are usually 3 main classes of autoclaves you can choose from:

  • Class N (the most compact small autoclaves)
  • Class B (nicknamed “big small”, or “medium” autoclaves)
  • Class S (all other types of autoclaves, including the largest steam sterilizers)

Class N steam sterilizers are essentially small dental autoclaves, that are perfect if you’re looking for the most space saving solution, and you only need to sterilize certain materials. The “N” stands for “naked solid product”, so be wary, as these dental steam sterilizers cannot be used to treat fabrics such as textiles. These machines also don’t always make use of the vacuum described above. 

Class S covers a much less defined category of autoclaves, where the details are mostly found in the technical descriptions provided by the manufacturer.

If you really want the best autoclave for your dental practice, then you should go for a class B autoclave, just like Celitron’s Azteca AC medium steam sterilizer. The letter “B” stands for “big small”, meaning that despite their smaller size (which is also perfect if you don’t work at a huge dental clinic),they can provide an excellent performance. You can also put much more types of dental instruments for sterilization!