Dental handpieces are one of the most commonly used instruments in your dental office. You rely on them to work nearly every time you pick them up, and when they don’t work, you need them fixed as soon as possible. They are also pretty expensive, so most offices don’t necessarily want to spend the extra money to ensure that they are covered if their handpieces go down. With that being said, most offices have fewer handpieces in their rotation then what is recommended, so they begin cutting corners in the sterilization process to save them time. Little do they know that the few minutes of time they are saving is actually costing them with much more frequent repairs.

I am going to explain the most important steps of the dental handpiece sterilization methods, and what corners you should avoid cutting to ensure that your handpieces will be lasting longer than ever before!

Sterilizing Dental Handpieces Using the Autoclave

What type of heat sterilization is appropriate for high-speed handpieces? Well, the autoclave is the most acceptable form of the dental handpiece sterilization methods and it is required to be used across the country, and world. The autoclave produces steam into a chamber where your handpieces and other instruments are laid out. The steam heats up the chamber to a temperature beyond 135 degrees, which in turn, sterilizes everything in the chamber. This is a method that absolutely cannot be skipped in the dental handpiece sterilization process. It ensures that the instruments you are using to treat patients are free of any pathogens that could cause infection or harm to the patient.

Handpieces Drying in the Autoclave

Just as ensuring that the handpieces remain in the autoclave for the correct amount of time during this dental handpiece sterilization method, you must ensure that the handpieces remain in the autoclave for the correct amount of time in the dry cycle. The dry cycle is when the handpieces and instruments return back to room temperature and the steam evacuates the chamber which allows everything to fully dry. During this period, the handpieces are at their most vulnerable. Many offices try to rush this drying process and use the handpieces before they are fully dry or cool. Unfortunately, this is what leads to almost immediate handpiece failure and may eventually require extensive dental handpiece repair. You MUST ensure that the handpieces are cool, and dry when you remove them from the autoclave, and ESPECIALLY before you use them.

Dental Handpiece Surface Cleaning as a Form of Sterilization

You are more than welcome to wipe down the exterior surface of your handpiece after a procedure with a sterilization wipe. It is not going to cause any damage to your handpiece, and actually removes any debris that could potentially cling to the handpiece during sterilization. HOWEVER, you must not use this method as the only form of dental handpiece sterilization that you perform on your handpieces. You MUST perform full sterilization of your handpiece using the Autoclave after EVERY procedure.

Dental Handpiece Sterilization Through Lubrication

Dental handpiece sterilization and dental handpiece lubrication go hand in hand, but they do not do the same thing. In fact, they are extremely different; however, they both must be done in the right order after every procedure, which can be viewed by visiting our Handpiece Maintenance post. Handpiece lubrication allows the handpieces to properly be protected from the extreme temperatures they reach during sterilization. Handpiece lubrication should be performed right after the procedure is complete, and right before the handpiece is sterilized. If it is not performed in this order the handpiece will not have the protective properties needed during sterilization, or the handpiece will potentially blow lubrication into the patient’s mouth during a procedure. Not a huge deal, but it makes it a lot harder to perform the procedure when you can’t get a grip on the slippery handpiece.

Overview of What Corners You Should Never Cut

As you can see from above, there are not many steps that you can cut during the sterilization process. The most important steps can be simply cut into 3 parts: 1) Pre-sterilization 2) Sterilization 3) Post-sterilization. How do you prepare a high speed handpiece for sterilization? Pre-sterilization consists of lubrication using an acceptable form of handpiece lubricant, wiping down using a sterilization wipe, and preparing for the autoclave. Step 2, is simply just sterilization. Throw those things into the autoclave and let it work its magic! Ensure that they are reaching the required time at/or above 135 degrees. Step 3, is the last, yet tied for the most important step. It consists of letting the handpieces fully dry and reach room temperature before using them. I am not fibbing, but the majority of the Electric Handpiece Repairs, as well as any other repairs, are caused by offices not fully allowing the handpieces to dry or cool down before proceeding to use them. So what am I getting too about this? Well basically, don’t skip any steps, just buy more handpieces! Sure, it may cost more than you want, but in the long run, it is way better for the longevity of the handpieces you have in your rotation.