Disinfection & Sterilization process must be executed with enormous care, as even a slight procedural lapse can compromise patient health. This includes the regular monitoring of the autoclave to ensure it is operating as expected. Dental professionals should carefully check three types of indicators when validating the effectiveness of the sterilization process.
The use of indicator tapes and other types of chemical indicators can help the technician determine whether the autoclave has reached proper sterilization temperatures. An indicator tape works by changing color if sterilization conditions reach a certain threshold. If the indicator does not respond, it should be assumed that any item being sterilized during that cycle is not sterile. The use of this indicator alone is not a guarantee that sterilization was effective.
It’s important to monitor temperature, pressure, and cycle duration while validating or using an autoclave. To accomplish this, technicians typically use high-quality data loggers. In fact, there are data loggers that are specifically designed for use with autoclaves and provide reporting tools for easy data analysis and confirmation.
Biological monitoring is important to root out problems with the autoclave and ensure successful sterilization cycles. An autoclave used in a dental setting should be examined for biological indicators at least once a week. The technician may elect to use spore monitoring strips or resort to a “mail-in” service to check for the presence of harmful microbes.
It’s important to note that all three types of monitoring are critical and required for an effective sterilization process. Biological monitoring is the most thorough, as it tests the sterilization process directly. However, mechanical and chemical monitoring provide useful information in order to assess the effectiveness of sterilization on a per load and per pack basis.
In addition to the above monitoring step, a dental practice may be subject to state and local regulations that might impose further regulatory obligations. Dental professionals have a responsibility to stay current with any applicable guidelines.