For dentists, the health and safety of their patients is of paramount importance—not only for maintaining a trusting relationship, but also for shielding them from potential sources of cross-contamination and possible infection. As such, proper sterilization is critical when it comes to controlling the cross contamination of bacteria throughout the dental operatory. By following best practices for sterilization, dental professionals can reduce the spread of infectious diseases to themselves, patients and practice staff.
As intraoral scanners increase in popularity, more questions arise regarding the correct sterilization procedure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, as released by the American Dental Association (ADA), intraoral scanners tips are a member of the semicritical category, as the tip comes into contact with mucous membranes or non-intact skin due to the nature of restorations.
The CDC recommends doctors use heat to sterilize semicritical instruments (if they are tolerant to such conditions). If the device—in this case, an intraoral scanner tip— is heat sensitive, CDC processing guidelines require users to use a high-level disinfectant to meet the minimum standard of care. High-level disinfection is defined as immersing the scanner in a sporicidal chemical for a period of 12-90 minutes. It should be noted that, while these chemicals inactivate vegetative bacteria, mycobacteria, fungi and viruses, they do not eliminate a high number of bacterial spores.
Under these terms, the best-case scenario for doctors is to use an autoclave to sterilize the scanner tip, which comes in contact with the mucous membranes, since the CDC’s next option still leaves room for cross contamination. However, some intraoral scanner manufacturers advise against both autoclaving and immersion in a disinfecting chemical and, instead, instruct users to wipe the scanner tip down with a cloth that has been immersed in the prepared solution. As the scanner tip is a semicritical instrument, these instructions do not meet even the minimum standard of best practices for infection control—leaving patients vulnerable to infection as a result.
If you are in the market for an intraoral scanner, selecting a model with autoclavable tips will ensure that you are properly able to sterilize the instrument and protect your patients from bacteria and viruses. Some manufacturers feature different tip sizes for patient comfort and can be autoclaved a number of times before they must be replaced.
When selecting an intraoral instrument, what role does infection control play in your search?
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Health-Care Settings— 2003. MMWR 2003;52 (No. RR-17): Pages 5, 20-21