History of Dental Technology – part 4 – Autoclaves and Decon devices

History of Dental Technology – part 4 – Autoclaves and Decon devices

A dental history in 8 technologies – part 4

Dentistry has changed in the 150-years or so since it became a widely understood, regulated medical profession. But some of the technologies we use today would be unrecognisable to 19th-century dentists. During that time, procedures, materials technologies, microbiology and electronics have all interacted to create increasingly cleaver instruments, tools, gadgets and procedures for dentists.

Following our well-received article on ‘Coal Fired Dentistry‘, we thought we’d take a quick look at some of the key the technologies we take for granted every day.

Photo - Charles Chamberland

Charles Chamberland – creator of the first autoclave

Autoclaves and decon devices

As the understanding of the role played by bacteria grew, and it was realised how bacteria and other pathogens can be spread, dentists sought new, effective and efficient ways to clean and disinfect their instruments. The procedures and processes followed by dental nurses today would be a total shock to our 19th-century dentist. Back in pre-WW1 Britain, dentists gave their instruments a thorough cleaning – once each week!

Photo - Chamberland Autoclave

A Chamberland Autoclave

The most familiar decontamination device is the Autoclave. Invented by Charles Chamberland (a collaborator of Louis Pasteur), in 1884, the Autoclave Sterilizer uses superheated steam to kill pathogens of all sorts.

By containing the steam under pressure in a chamber, the autoclave can raise its temperature well beyond the normal boiling point of water (100-degrees C) to a level and pressure that is lethal to every known organism. For example, raising the pressure inside the autoclave by the equivalent of 1-atmosphere raises the boiling point of water to 121-degrees C.

Photo - a modern autoclave

A modern autoclave

Originally, autoclaves were installed within the dental surgery, and would often be working while a patient was in the chair. The combination of pressurised steam and patients began to be seen as ‘a bit risky’, so as decontamination procedures became more rigorous (requiring the invention of a properly qualified nurse) they were moved to separate rooms – popularly known as the ‘decon room’.

Photo - decontamination room

A modern dental decontamination room

The pressure to see more patients more quickly meeting higher standards of decontamination brought about a need for other devices to speed things up a bit.

That’s why you will now find ultrasonic baths, enzyme cleaners, oiling machines for headpieces, washer-disinfectors, and a range of other automated tools available to nurses so they can turn-around instruments quicker, and to a higher standard of sterilisation.


Photo - ultrasonic bath

Ultrasonic bath

Using sterilisation technologies with Pearl

Pearl Dental Software is designed to make the smooth and efficient running of your practice easier. This includes excellent diary management features that not only keep your practice busy, but make it easy for your nurses to understand the treatments they will see during the day, and to plan their instrument management and serialisation procedures accordingly.

For more information, please contact us on 0116 275 9995 or email info@bhasoftware.com

Chris Webb