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Avoid the Risks Associated with Under-Sterilized Dental Handpieces by Properly Cleaning and Sterilizing Your Instruments

A recent news report was released that outlined the fact that more than 1,200 dental students in Seattle and Vashon Island that utilized under-sterilized dental handpieces were potentially exposed to two devastating medical conditions – HIV and hepatitis.

Dentist Working

The news of the potential exposure was released by Neighborcare Health, who is in charge of the operations of the academic clinics.

It stemmed from a review that showed that there was a direct deficiency in the sterilization process of some of the handpieces that were utilized at a total of 12 schools in the region.

You can avoid this issue in your dental practice by ensuring that each of your dental handpieces are properly cleaned and sterilized.

The Problem

The CEO of the health organization that discovered the issue, Michael Erikson, stated that all of the dental handpieces were thoroughly disinfected; however, they did not receive the proper heat sterilization that their organization has in place.

The students from Vashon Island were negatively impacted between September of 2017 and March of 2018. The students in Seattle were affected prior to March of 2019.

In addition to the student exposure, it has been estimated that approximately 1,250 patients that were seen during these periods were also potentially impacted by the exposure. The following specifies the schools that were impacted:

  • Denny International Middle School
  • Bailey Gazert Elementary
  • Chief Sealth International High School
  • Beacon Hill International
  • Van Asselt Elementary
  • Madison Middle School
  • Mercer Middle School
  • Highland Park Elementary
  • Roxhill Elementary
  • West Seattle Elementary
  • McMurray Middle School
  • Chautauqua Elementary


While each of the dental handpieces were thoroughly cleaned with a special germicidal-based disinfectant that is known to kill the unique pathogens that are associated with the conditions of HIV and hepatitis, many did not go through the proper heat sterilization process; however, it was discovered that all of the other dental instruments were properly sterilized.

As a result, all will now be retained to the proper cleaning, lubrication, and sterilization of dental handpieces, which includes:

  1. First, ensure that the dental handpiece is wiped down with a damp cloth that can be disposed of afterwards. The device should be completely cleared of all dust, debris, and bio-matter.
  2. Next, the unit should run for approximately 30 seconds in operation mode to ensure that the inside water line is completely cleaned.
  3. The dental instrument should then be completely dried.
  4. Lubrication should be placed within the drive air hole and it should be ran on a low speed until only the lubrication substance that you have used comes from the head.
  5. Any fiber optic should be cleaned with a cotton swab and isopropyl alcohol combination.
  6. The dental handpiece should be sterilized according to the instructions from the manufacturer.
  7. To start with, the unit should be bagged prior to sterilization.
  8. It should then be processed through a sterilizer that is autoclave or uses a chemical vapor and combination of heat.

If you find that you need assistance in learning how to sterilize your dental handpieces or that you need the tools and equipment that are necessary for proper sterilization, we here at Hughes Dental can assist you.

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