Is Your Dentist Using Sterile Dental Equipment?

When you visit your dentist, you might be afraid that the experience will be painful or your dentist will find a problem you weren’t aware of. You may even be concerned about the equipment your dentist is using. Is the dental equipment sterile? These are legitimate concerns. Bacteria and viruses can be transmitted through contact with non-sterile instruments. How do you know that the instruments your dentist puts into your mouth were appropriately sterilized?


Your Dentist is Required to Follow Guidelines to Ensure Sterile Dental Equipment

Your dentist is required to follow infection control guidelines established by the BC Ministry of Health. These include guidelines on how equipment and instruments are to be sterilized and procedures all employees must use to reduce the risk of spreading infection. Each instrument must be thoroughly cleaned BEFORE it’s sterilized. Cleaning removes superficial dirt and debris while sterilization kills bacteria and viruses.

After sterilization, each instrument is packaged and stored in an approved area. This three-part procedure ensures each instrument is free of bacteria and viruses. Dental offices monitor the equipment they used to sterilize instruments regularly to ensure they’re functioning properly.  Items that can’t be moved like x-ray equipment and surfaces are disinfected with a chemical disinfectant to kill bacteria and viruses.


How Do You Know Your Dental Office is Doing Its Job?

There is a certain amount of trust involved when you visit your dentist. You depend on them to follow required guidelines to keep the dental equipment you’re exposed to sterile – but you aren’t there when they do it. How do you know the dental instruments are sterile?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Let your dentist know you’re concerned about your risk for infection and ask them to explain how they sterilize their dental equipment. Then take a close look around the office. Do all surfaces look clean and uncluttered? Is your dentist wearing gloves? A dentist should wash their hands before putting on gloves and after changing gloves. In addition, your dentist should put on a new pair of gloves with each patient. Then they shouldn’t touch anything other than sterile instruments or your mouth without changing them again.

Some dental offices use an autoclave, a device that exposes the instruments to steam at high heat and pressure, to sterilize equipment. Dentists are required to validate the autoclave is working properly through a third party. Ask to see the autoclave validation report. If your dentist shows you this, they’re likely following the guidelines. Before your dentist uses instruments on you, make sure they remove the instruments from a sealed bag to ensure they’re still sterile.


The Bottom Line?

Most dentists work hard to follow the guidelines and ensure that only sterile dental instruments touch your mouth. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If the dental office and dentist are open and receptive to your questions, there’s a good chance they’re following the guidelines.