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The First Rule for Treatment: Stay Clean!

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HealthWiki > Where There Is No Dentist > Chapter 7: Treating Some Common Problems > The First Rule for Treatment: Stay Clean!

No matter what problem you are treating, be sure that your workplace, your instruments, and you are always clean. For example, prevent infection by always washing your hands before you examine or treat someone.

Wash your hands with soap and water in front of the person, in the same room. You will show that you are a careful and caring health worker. Also, you will demonstrate just how important cleanliness really is.

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Wear gloves

Latex or plastic gloves protect the people you touch from germs that may be stuck under your fingernails or on your skin, even after you wash your hands. They also protect you from getting infections. Wear clean gloves whenever you touch someone’s mouth or any blood.

If you are filling or removing a tooth, or if you are touching any instruments that have been sterilized, you must wear sterile gloves.

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If you do not have gloves, use plastic bags that have been washed in disinfectant soap instead. Bags are harder to use than gloves, but they are better than nothing.

scrubbing an instrument with a brush.
Germs hide inside bits of old food, cement, or blood on an instrument. There they can continue to live, even in boiling water.
This is why you must be sure to scrub the working end of each instrument carefully with soap and water. Rinse, and then look carefully to see that it is clean and shiny.

Remember that ‘clean looking’ is not necessarily ‘clean’. Truly ‘clean’ means free of germs. Unless you sterilize, that instrument may still have germs, the kind that cause infection in the next person that it touches.

Sterilizing means killing germs. The best way to sterilize is with heat. High heat kills almost all harmful germs—especially those that cause hepatitis, tetanus, and mouth infections. Wet heat (steam) is always more effective than dry heat from an oven.

a syringe and dental instruments.
Be safe: When in doubt, sterilize.

Here is a simple rule to use in deciding when to sterilize:

Boil or sterilize with steam any instrument that has touched blood.

That means always sterilize all syringes, needles, and instruments you use when scaling teeth (Chapter 8) or when taking out a tooth (Chapter 11).

Instruments need to boil in water for 30 minutes to become sterile. A pot with a cover to trap the steam can act faster. The inside becomes hotter. But remember that water can rust metal instruments. To prevent rust:

  • Add 5 spoonfuls (20 ml) of oil to every liter of water you boil.
  • Then lay the hot instruments on a dry, clean (sterile, if possible) cloth, so the water can evaporate.

Never put an instrument away while it is wet.

Sterilizing with steam under pressure is the surest method. It kills harmful germs in 30 minutes. You need a strong pot with a tight fitting lid. But be sure to make a small hole in the lid so steam can escape when the pressure becomes too great.

A special pot called a pressure cooker is perfect for this. It even has a safety hole on it to release extra steam.

a pressure cooker with a metal stand called a trivet that goes inside.

  1. Put 2 cups of water and 2 spoonfuls of cooking oil into the pot.

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  3. Place the handles together. Put on high heat until a loud hissing noise begins.

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  5. Put on lower heat. Begin timing now. Leave the hissing pot on the low flame for 30 minutes.

  6. running cool water on the closed pressure cooker.
    The next time you use the pot, you can use the same water that was left inside it.
  7. Cool the pot under water, open, and lay the instruments on a clean towel to dry.

Sterilizing with heat is not necessary for instruments that do not touch blood. For example, after you examine a person or place a temporary filling, you can clean your instruments and then soak them in a solution of alcohol or bleach.

a large container as described below.
tight fitting lid

Alcohol solution

  1. Mix in a large container each week: 7 parts ethanol or isopropyl alcohol (95%) with 3 parts clean water, or use 70% alcohol. Keep the container tightly covered to prevent evaporation.

  2. Keep a covered pan half filled with this mixture. You will have to add some more of the mixture from the large container to the pan each day.

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  4. Leave your clean instruments in the pan, completely covered with the liquid, for 30 minutes.

Bleach solution (sodium hypochlorite)

Find the cheapest brand name in your area for bleach. Examples are Javex, Clorox, Purex, and Cidex. Make 1 liter of solution with a mixture of ½ cup (125 ml) of bleach and 3½ cups (875 ml) of clean water.

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½ CUP 3 + ½ CUPS
instruments in a pan of bleach solution with baking soda.
Change the solution each week.

Unfortunately, bleach rusts metal instruments. To reduce rust, add 1 large spoonful of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to the solution, and leave your instruments in the solution for only 30 minutes.

Wipe each instrument with alcohol to remove the film of bleach. Then store it dry inside a clean cloth or in another covered pan.

Keep your sterile instruments together in a clean place

Wrap them in a clean cloth OR Leave them in disinfectant
a cloth bundle with a label that reads, "Tooth forceps." DENT Ch7 Page 90-2.png
Mark with tape the names of the instruments inside. Before you use any instrument again, wash it with clean water — to remove the taste of the disinfectant.

Germs living in dirty cotton can easily go inside the socket and start an infection. It is important, therefore, to keep the cut pieces in a container that is clean and has a cover. Use clean tweezers to remove the cotton gauze when you need some.

cutting pieces from a roll of cotton gauze and using tweezers to put them in a container.

Also, keep your room and work area clean. Sweep or mop the floor one or two times a day, and wipe down the chair and tables after every patient.

Staying clean is a part of staying healthy.

This page was updated:30 Aug 2018