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The Information about Dental Steam Autoclaves

Cleaning instruments, provides a good opportunity to examine, replace or remove damaged instruments; lubricate items such as dental handpieces; and otherwise prepare instruments for sterilization. Instruments must be dry before packaging – if drying was not part of the cleaning process, time must be taken to dry the instruments completely.

Parameters such as time, pressure and temperature vary according to the type of sterilizer, materials being sterilized and individual models within sterilizer brands. The first step in determining the settings for the sterilizer is to refer to the manufacturer’s instructions. Sterilizers are medical devices, requiring clearance by the Food and Drug Administration before manufacturers may offer them for sale.

Steam autoclaves are the most commonly used type of heat sterilizer in dental practices. Two types of processes employ steam under pressure. The difference between the two is the manner in which the machine evacuates the air from the sterilization chamber and then introduces the steam.

Gravity displacement sterilizers rely on the forces of gravity to force air out of the chamber through air escape vents. The steam entering the chamber from the water reservoir displaces the air as it leaves the chamber. The combination of pressurization of the chamber, steam and a high temperature for a prolonged period has the ability to kill virtually all microorganisms. This is the most common type of autoclave found in dental offices in the United States. A typical cycle for wrapped instruments includes heat-up and pressurization time, followed by a 15-to-30-minute cycle during which sterilization is taking place (121°C at 15 psi). The sterilization cycle time decreases as the temperature is increased. It is important to use cycle times and temperatures described in the owner’s manual, and never to interrupt the sterilization cycle to remove or add items, or for any other reason. Interruption of the cycle will result in instruments that are not sterile and therefore not safe for use on patients.

After the sterilization cycle, the sterilizer must depressurize and the packs remain in the sterilizer for drying. The drying phase may take anywhere from 20-45 minutes. The unit must only be opened after completion of the drying cycle. Upon removal from the sterilizer, sterile packs must be stored in a clean, dry area. Packs that become wet, torn, contaminated, or otherwise compromised require resterilization.

Prevacuum autoclaves (also called Autoclave Class B or Type B sterilizers) use a variety of technologies to remove air from the chamber before the steam enters, thus creating a vacuum. Most use a pulse vacuum to ensure elimination of air from the chamber. This is generally a more efficient means of pressurizing the chamber; therefore, the operator may notice some minor time saving in the start-up of the prevacuum sterilizers. Most prevacuum sterilizers use a temperature of 132°C-135°C for 3-10 minutes to achieve sterilization. This higher temperature may be unacceptable for some items, such as Teflon-coated instruments. Total time for pressurization, sterilization, venting and drying is generally considerably shorter than that for gravity sterilizers – about 45 minutes.

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