The Importance of Sterility in Medicine
Sterilization refers to the process that removes living micro-organisms from materials and objects. The goal of product sterilization is to kill all micro-organisms and spores. In addition, viruses, prions (infectious proteins), plasmids and other DNA-fragments are destroyed. This makes a sterilized product non-infectious, meaning you cannot catch diseases from it.
Steam sterilization (heating in an autoclave) is standard procedure in most hospitals and doctors’ offices. You see the sterilizer being loaded with surgery containers holding sterile goods. The container serve as storage until the next patient treatment.
The materials to be sterilized are treated with overpressure for a certain period of time and at a certain temperature. For prion destruction, the materials that are being sterilized should be heated to 134 degrees Celsius for 18 minutes at three bars of pressure. The air in the autoclave interior should be completely replaced with saturated water vapor. These sterility conditions are only guaranteed with category B sterilizers; these create a vacuum inside the sterilizing unit before the sterilization process begins. This means that air is sucked out and replaced by water vapor. This guarantees that the materials being sterilized are surrounded by water vapor on all sides, an important condition for sterilization.
Ask your doctor if he uses a class B sterilizer, as these are unfortunately not the norm. If the doctor does not have a class B sterilizer, itis recommended that you abstain from undergoing treatment because the instruments are not sterile! After sterilization, the containers are removed from the autoclave and the surgical instruments are prepared for upcoming patient treatment.
Doctors’ offices do not usually use surgery containers. This leads to an interruption in the sterility chain as soon as the instruments are removed from the autoclave and come in contact with hands and fingers. Sometimes the instruments are shrink-wrapped in a special paper foil that allows for short-term sterile storage of the instruments. However, the package cannot be damaged or the instrument immediately becomes non-sterile.
Sterile instruments are useless if non-sterile covers are used. There are different options in terms of sterile covers. The use of disposable articles is safe as these are sterilized by producers through radiation and are thus free of germs. Prior to surgery, you see how the instruments are sorted on a sterile disposable cover that serves as padding.
Frequently, washable linen cloths are used instead of disposable articles. These are sometimes sterilized in an autoclave, but some doctors’ offices do not do this. Either way, the linens are not sterile because even an autoclave cannot completely remove germs from the linens. How do you find out if you are in good hands with your dentist in terms of hygiene? Ask your doctor about hygiene guidelines. A conscientious doctor will happily answer your questions while a dentist that has gaps in his system will not be so eager to volunteer information. Ask for:
- Sterilization protocols
- Class B sterilizers
- Storage containers
- Disposable covers
- Thermodisinfection device
This post is also available in: German