Everything You Need to Know About the Dental Autoclave – Top 3

Introduction – What is a Dental Autoclave?

The dental autoclave is an essential element in dentistry as it is used to sanitize handpieces and other dental instruments after use. The dental autoclave uses high-pressure temperature and steam to eliminate bacteria and remove debris from handpieces. This dental equipment is designed and manufactured to pass CDC accreditation so that dentists and their patients are guaranteed that instruments are entirely safe to reuse.

As noted earlier, dental autoclave uses high temperature and steam to sterilize equipment. Temperatures within these dental devices are designed to reach 270 degrees Fahrenheit (132.2 degrees Celsius). Due to its use of extreme temperature, dental autoclave also incorporates impeccable safety designs. Once in use, the dental sterilizer will automatically lock and will only be unlocked once the sterilization process is complete and all instruments inside are sufficiently cooled and dry.  

The sterilization process depends on the dental autoclave as some models can complete the sanitation cycle within 6 minutes while others can take up to half an hour. Traditional dental autoclave machines will utilize steam for cleansing instruments, but there are also other models out there that use dry heat. These models eliminate moisture from the cleaning procedure, which speeds up the process significantly. Due to dental autoclaves being used the most often, it is always best to purchase one from a reputable supplier that also offers a lengthy warranty.

The Importance of Quality Dental Autoclave Today

With the current state of the world, post-COVID-19, people are now even more interested in knowing how establishments and medical clinics proceed with their sanitation. The fact of the matter is that we are still not free from the threat of the global pandemic that has gripped, and is still gripping, the world. Sanitation is as crucial today as it has ever been, and in the field of dentistry, the dental autoclave is the largest cog in the wheel of health and safety. Fortunately, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has already placed guidelines on all medical clinics to ensure the safety of the doctors, nurses, assistants, staff, and patients.

The Different Types of Dental Autoclaves

When it comes to autoclave functionality, there are two main methods utilized, and these are:

  • Gravity/Vacuum-Induced Method
  • Pre-Vacuum Sterilization Method

There is also a hybrid variation the combines these two functionalities. Both types of autoclave incorporate high-temperature steam to sterilize the instruments. The high-temperature steam also increases pressure within the autoclave exponentially, which causes the ambient air within the sterilization chamber to become displaced. This allows for a more thorough sterilization process inside the autoclave and ensures that all instruments are safe for use.

The most common type of autoclave is the gravity or vacuum-induced model. Gravity-induced autoclaving involves the use of steam which is pumped into the chamber, which causes the ambient air inside to be displaced. The ambient air will then be forced out of the exhaust valves, which leaves the high-pressure steam inside to sterilize the items in the chamber. The simplistic structure of the gravity-induced autoclave is its most significant strengths as it is as straightforward as they come and requires no complicated mechanisms to operate. This aspect of gravity-induced autoclave also makes it considerably more affordable and are relatively more reliable in the long run.

The other type of autoclave is pre-vacuum. This is suitable for instances wherein ambient air cannot be entirely easily removed from certain items. This type of dental autoclave is often used in sterilizing larger items or instruments that are porous such as beddings and specific surgical tools with coverings. Pre-vacuum autoclaves are designed to deliver deeper sterilization, which is why it is best suited for the above examples we just listed. The high-pressure steam in pre-vac autoclaves can also penetrate hard-to-reach areas for an even more exhaustive cleaning process.

Main Difference Between Gravity and Pre-Vacuum Autoclave

3 Classes of Dental Autoclaves

When you are in the market for dental autoclaves, you might also notice that there are several types to choose from, mainly: Class N, Class S, and Class B. What do these letters connotate and how do you decide which one suits your needs best? Let us find out.

  • Class N Dental Autoclave

Class N autoclaves are the standard units that you will encounter. The “N” is for “naked solid products” which are categorized as those that incorporate simple and raw materials in their construction such as solid stainless-steel instruments. Class N is best suited for cleaning simple devices and are not ideal for sterilizing tools that feature porous materials, textile, and hollow equipment. Class N autoclaves also have limited sterilization cycles that may not meet specific physical test standards. Another notable aspect of Class N autoclave is that it creates a vacuum at the start of every operation, which is not precisely mandatory for this type of machine and this specific application.

  • Class B Dental Autoclave

The “B” here stands for “Big small sterilizers” which can give you an idea about the traits of this autoclave. Class B autoclaves are defined by their compact design and build while providing functionality that is comparable to larger sterilization machines found in hospitals. Class B autoclaves are also known for their excellent versatility. This type of autoclave can sterilize all kinds of materials and instruments. Class B autoclaves have an EN 13060 standard which is given to units that are equipped with smaller steam sterilizers.

  • Class S Dental Autoclave

Finally, we have the Class S dental autoclave. This type of autoclave is best described as a hybrid between Type N and Type B autoclaves. It has features that are found in both classes but stand on its own in terms of performance and functionality. Class S autoclave’s definition is quite broad, and it can only be fully distinguished based on the characteristics that the manufacturer implemented into the machine. Thus, a Class S autoclave throws a wide net and determining its classification is not as simple as the previous classes that we touched upon.

What is the Recommended Autoclave Class for Dentistry?

In terms of overall functionality and performance, the autoclave class that is best suited for dental practices is the Class B autoclave. This is due to Class B autoclave’s versatility and flexible sterilization settings. Class B autoclaves are also compact and are designed explicitly for sterilizing handpieces and smaller instruments. This means it will also be taking up the appropriate amount of space in a dental clinic. Another notable aspect of Class B autoclave is its high level of efficiency and excellent safety standards. The ergonomic design and low energy consumption make Class B autoclaves incredibly energy efficient, as well. For dental practices, Class B autoclaves are the best choices thanks to its user-friendly operation and excellent safety, hygiene, and comfort.

Uses of Autoclaves in Dentistry

As we have already established earlier, autoclaves are used explicitly for sterilizing tools and instruments. In a field such as dentistry, hygiene is the most crucial aspect of ensuring the safety of patients. In general, a Class B autoclave will suit standard dental clinics just fine as this type of autoclave can accommodate available dentistry tools. However, in cases wherein complex dental surgery must be conducted, larger autoclaves might be required to provide larger space for more instruments to be sterilized at once.

Autoclaves are designed to sterilize the following dental instruments:

  • Dental handpieces
  • Surgical tools
  • Packet of tools

Another important aspect of using autoclaves is to make sure that the tools/equipment/instruments that you will be sterilizing inside these machines are designed to be compatible with autoclaves. Some materials are not intended for high-pressure steam cleaning and might cause irreversible damage. To help you figure out whether a specific tool can be sterilized with an autoclave, here are materials that are deemed safe for this type of cleaning:

  • Stainless steel
  • Glass
  • Polypropylene

To go into further detail, here are tools that are perfectly safe to be placed inside autoclaves:

  • Gloves
  • Surgical equipment
  • Media solutions

To further help you avoid any mistakes in the future, here are the types of material that you should never place inside an autoclave as it might cause to the tool or to the machine itself:

  • Non-stainless steel
  • Polyurethane
  • Polystyrene
  • Sulphates
  • Chlorine
  • Chlorides
  • Paraffin
  • Low and High-density polyethene
  • Corrosive materials
  • Flammable materials
  • Toxic materials
  • Sealed containers with liquid content
  • Materials that are too large that it touches the interior surface of the autoclave
  • Autoclave Maintenance Tips and Guideline

Autoclaves are designed to sterilize various types of dental equipment; as such, this machine is highly susceptible to bacteria and debris build-up. This is why maintenance is crucial in ensuring that the autoclave will remain in tip-top shape at all times. Neglecting to do regular and proper autoclave maintenance can lead to break down, which means repair costs which can be quite expensive. Failing to maintain your dental autoclave will also lead to a steady degradation of the unit’s performance and ability to sterilize instruments properly.

To help you ensure that your autoclave unit remains in peak condition, here are maintenance guidelines that you should adhere to and follow to the letter.

Daily Maintenance Tips:

Before placing handpieces and other dental instruments into the autoclave, it is crucial to ensure that the tools are free from debris, organic tissue, and blood. We highly recommend you use an ultrasonic cleaner as not only will it help the cleaning process; it can also help prolong your autoclave’s lifespan.

It is essential to do regular checkups on the autoclave’s gasket. Check to see if there are any visible wear and tear or cracks. It would help if you also made a habit of cleaning the gasket and the mating surface with a clean cloth and a mild cleaning detergent.

When using the autoclave, you have to follow the recommended capacity of the unit. Never overload the chamber as it might lead to uneven sterilization and drying. After every sterilization cycle, it is vital to use a Class 5 Chemical Integrator Test Strip to check if cleaning parameters are met. It is best to ensure that all items inside have gone through the proper sterilization cycle as just a small percentage of bacteria can lead to complications to the next patient and can slowly degrade the performance of the tools.

Weekly Maintenance Tips:

It is best to clean the entire autoclave machine once a week. When cleaning the rack and tray, we suggest you use non-abrasive detergents and use soft cloth or sponge rather than steel wool. We also advise against using highly corrosive cleaning solutions such as bleach since it might damage the surface of the tray, rack, and machine.

Check the reservoir underneath or behind the autoclave and refill it with distilled water every week. If there is still some remaining water from the previous week, make sure you drain the reservoir entirely before replenishing it with fresh water. It is mandatory to perform a Biological Live Spore test every week or at least a month to ensure that the machine is still able to perform its function correctly.

Monthly Maintenance Tips:

When going through the monthly maintenance, it is crucial to use the recommended autoclave cleaner that is indicated on the unit’s instructions. Once you have that on hand, the full cleaning process will typically require up to 2 gallons of distilled water to accomplish.

You should always do a thorough check on the autoclave’s power plug and cord to ensure there aren’t any damages. Damages to this part of the machine can lead to short-circuiting and may even be a fire hazard. If damage and wear and tear are found on the cord and plug, it is best to repair it at once. Some units incorporate a quick-disconnect power cord, which means replacement can be done quickly. For units that have built-in power cords, we recommend you contact a professional to replace the damaged cable.

Annual Maintenance Tips:

Annual maintenance of the autoclave machine is mandatory and must be inspected by a professional to learn if any calibration is required. This process is called Preventative Maintenance services for which every component of the autoclave must be cleaned and check for any prior damage. Parts that have signs of degradation must be replaced. The most common features that will require replacement every year are the filters, seals, and gaskets. These parts are critical to proper sterilization, so it is to your best interest to have them in the best possible condition. In cases wherein the autoclave is used often, a bi-annual maintenance service should be considered.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Dental Autoclaves

To further expand your knowledge on autoclaves, we have compiled a list of commonly asked question about this machine. This will give you an idea of the core fundamentals of this equipment as well as other key detail about its application.

  1. How often should autoclave inspection be conducted?

As we have already discussed in this article, preventative maintenance is an essential part of the dental autoclave, and it can be done monthly, quarterly, yearly, or bi-annually. You can also base the schedule for preventative maintenance on the usage of the machine. This is recommended for clinics which operate their autoclaves relatively more often than other clinics. You can schedule an inspection/maintenance for your autoclave after every 300 cycles (operation). However, it is mandatory to conduct maintenance, either quarterly or annually.

  • What is the most common cause of steam autoclave damage?

The most common factor that affects autoclave damage is the frequency of use. Of course, there are other factors to consider which contribute to wear and tear. The second most significant influence on autoclave damage is the quality of the water and steam. Calcium carbonate in water can cause scale build-up, which will reduce the machines heating capabilities which, in turn, forces the mechanism inside to work harder to perform its functionalities. Traces of chloride in water can also lead to long term damage such as corrosion.

  • What component of the dental autoclave should I be aware of the most during maintenance?

When it comes to the most crucial components to focus on during maintenance and inspection, the valve takes the top spot. The autoclave’s overall performance and functionality rely on this particular part. Think of it’s as the heart of the machine, and any issue with the valve will negatively affect the machine’s performance.

Dental Autoclave Buying Guide

If you are in the market for your first dental autoclave, you must head into this rather deep pool armed with the right information. If you have no idea where to start, don’t fret for we will impart with you the knowledge on what to look for in an autoclave.

  • Choose a Reputable Manufacturer or Supplier

It is always best to buy from a respected and well-known manufacturer. These companies typically have years, or even decades, of experience in this field and are compliant to all industry standards in both quality and safety. Keep in mind that the security of your patients should be at the forefront in terms of decision-making factors. Reputable companies will also provide warranties and excellent customer service for troubleshooting and repairs.

  • Number of Items to be Sterilized at Once

The size of the autoclave is the next most integral aspect that you should decide on. How many dental instrument and tools do you need to sterilize? Do you think that the number of devices that you have will increase in the future? It would be best if you have a definite answer to these questions when buying an autoclave. Having the correct chamber size will speed up your productivity and ensure that all items are appropriately sterilized.

  • Check for Warranty

Since this will be quite an investment and is an equipment that you will use for the long term, it is best to see the perks that the manufacturer attaches to the unit. Are their customer service representatives easy to get a hold of? How long is the warranty period? How about repair services? It pays to plan ahead to avoid the proverbial potholes along the way.

The Top 3 Best Dental Autoclave Manufacturers of 2020

Now, that you have an understanding of how to choose the right autoclave, let us further help you by giving you three of our most recommended manufacturers/suppliers in the industry. These companies have proven their worth with a cavalcade of satisfied clients and products that meet, and even surpass, the industry standards.

  1. Tuttnauer Autoclave Manufacturer

Tuttnauer provides a broad selection of autoclaves that are designed not only for clinical use but also for home use. The company is known for its highly flexible units and user-friendly design. If you are looking for the most compact autoclaves in the market, Tuttnauer also has those in stock for you.

2. Vic Dental

Autoclaves

Vic Dental has some of the most economically sound dental products to date. Affordable yet high quality, Vic Dental’s autoclaves come with a modern flair and packed with advanced features. This is one of our most highly recommended dental supplier and manufacturing brands today for those who are looking for a quality supplier with a reasonable price range.

3. All-American Canner

If you are looking for a robust industry-grade autoclave, the All-American Canner is one of the respected in this category. This company has proven their mettle in the development of autoclave for years, and their continuous innovation makes them one of the front-runners in this market for which other companies are measured.

Final Thoughts

The importance of having a reliable and quality autoclave in the field of dentistry cannot be stressed enough. It is the backbone of every dental clinic and guarantees the safety of the patient. Always invest in what you perceive to be the best available option, regardless of the cost. Of course, being smart with how you choose an autoclave will pay dividends in the future. Hopefully, this article has helped you in forming the best course of action.