The process of sterilizing dental instruments such as handpieces begins with cleaning the instruments using a washer or ultrasonic cleaner. The instruments are then treated in dental autoclaves, which sterilize the equipment by applying high-pressure steam to destroy pathogens and other bacterial spores. All dental offices operate with at least one autoclave, but in many cases, offices have multiple autoclaves. Round chamber autoclaves are typically used for larger loads, whereas cassette style autoclaves are primarily used to sterilize smaller loads of instruments for quicker turnaround between patients. In the gravity displacement system, steam is taken in from the top or the sides of the sterilizing chamber and, because the steam is less dense than air, air is forced out of the bottom of the chamber through a vent. These types of autoclaves are primarily used to process nonporous articles whose surfaces can have direct steam contact. For these types of autoclaves, steam takes a longer time to penetrate porous items because the entrapped air remaining in a load of waste greatly retards steam permeation and heating efficiency. This system can only process solid loads, wrapped or unwrapped.
With the pulsed steam technology, the steam is injected in pulses into the chamber, which gradually builds up internal pressure until air is vented out. Unlike vacuum sterilizers, air leaks do not affect this process because the steam in the sterilizing chamber is above atmospheric pressure. This system is capable of sterilizing most solid and hollow instruments that may be wrapped or unwrapped.