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CDC Clarifies Handpiece Reprocessing Procedures – Infection Control

In February, with the help of the American Dental Association (ADA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released additional information on how to properly reprocess handpieces for reuse, specifically regarding cordless devices and how to maintain infection control standards.

The CDC’s 2003 Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Healthcare Settings recommend that all components of handpieces that can be removed from the air and waterlines should be cleaned and then heat sterilized. The CDC continues to espouse this, stating the following on its website:

“Handpieces and other intraoral instruments that can be removed from the air and waterlines of dental units are considered semicritical devices. In addition, studies show that the internal portions of high-speed handpieces and low-speed handpiece motors can become contaminated and that it is possible for retained patient material to be released into the mouths of subsequent patients. Therefore, handpieces and other intraoral instruments should be removed from the air and waterlines of dental units, cleaned, and heat-sterilized between patients. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning, lubrication, and sterilization. Do not surface-disinfect, submerge in liquid chemical sterilants, or barrier-protect these instruments because these methods cannot adequately clean, disinfect, or sterilize the internal components. These instruments include, but are not limited to, high-speed, low-speed, electric, endodontic, and surgical handpieces, as well as all handpiece motors and attachments such as reusable prophylaxis angles, nosecones, and contra-angles.”

For cordless devices, dental practitioners should use only devices cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and should follow manufacturer’s reprocessing instructions for these devices.

In California, the Dental Board of California’s (DBC’s) rules for infection control require that that all high-speed dental hand pieces, low-speed hand pieces, rotary components and dental unit attachments such as reusable air/water syringe tips and ultrasonic scaler tips, be heat-sterilized as a semicritical item.

For our OSHA Review subscribers… the DBC’s Infection Control Regulation can be found on Poster 13B of your Poster Set, and the CDC’s 2003 Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Healthcare Settings can be downloaded from

Since 1992, OSHA Review, Inc. has provided dental professionals with comprehensive programs to support regulatory compliance and infection control. We are a registered continuing education provider in the state of California, specializing in Dental Practice Act, infection control, and OSHA training.


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