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How to Maintain Sterile and Compliant Instruments

Cleaning instruments is not the most glamorous part of working in a dental practice. Unfortunately, there is no way around the task—it’s an essential part of a well-maintained practice. All the instruments must be properly cleaned and sanitized, so your dentist, dental hygienist, and dental assistants can provide quality care.

Each instrument should be examined to ensure there is no inorganic or organic residue remaining on the tool. That means no plaque, composites, cement, or anything else. While the technology used in dental practices does most of the hard work, it can often fail. No matter your method of cleaning, it must be done thoroughly before sterilization.


To ensure your dental staff is complying with regulations, have them go over guidelines set forth by the CDC. All instruments should be properly cleaned before undergoing sterilization. For instance, the CDC recommends soaking instruments in detergent and cleaning manually, if they’re not cleaned immediately after use. Alternatively, the instruments can be cleaned with a washer-disinfector or ultrasonic cleaner and various detergents.

Common Failures

Ultrasonic cleaners use cavitation to remove debris and organic matter from instruments. Water-disinfectors utilize high-temperature water and detergent at high pressures to clean the instruments. While both processes are usually reliable, they can fail at times.

Ultrasonic cleaners can’t do the best job when they’re overloaded, and at times, it’s easy for that to happen. Thus, to ensure your instruments are getting properly sterilized, never overload your ultrasonic cleaner. Furthermore, be aware of the detergents you use. Opt for a detergent recommended by the cleaner’s manufacturer for best results.

Water-disinfectors run into the same problem when the cleaner is overloaded. Additionally, the spray arms on these machines can also become clogged with time and use. Your dental staff needs to check the effectiveness of the spray arms to ensure cleaning is completed thoroughly.

Cleaning Monitors

While the sterilization process is relatively straightforward, nothing can become sterile unless it’s cleaned properly. While the above tips to overcome common failures will help, for greatest assurance, consider using cleaning monitors. These tools can check the cleaning process much more efficiently than the old eye test.

To use a cleaning monitor, place it in your ultrasonic cleaner or water-disinfector with the rest of your instruments. On the cleaning monitor, there will be strips that test for blood and tissue. If the colored strips are fully-removed after a cleaning cycle, the cleaning process was effective. Thus, you have a quick and easy way to determine how effective your ultrasonic cleaner or water-disinfector is.

The Bottom Line

No dental practice could operate without instruments, and no practice could operate without proper cleaning strategies. Additionally, your practice must adhere to the standards of the CDC and FDA. To do so, and to ensure your instruments are thoroughly cleaned before sterilization, try using cleaning monitors.

Furthermore, you need to ensure your staff is well-trained in the necessary procedures. If you need help finding qualified staff, join the Stynt network. By filling out this form, you get access to thousands of experienced, skilled freelance dental professionals who are ready to make a direct influence on your practice.


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