How should instruments be sterilized in a modern dental office?
Infection and cross-contamination are major concerns both for you and your dentist. You need to be protected from it, in the same level as your dentist should be. This is where proper sterilization techniques come in.
When you go in a dental office, and sit in the dental chair, look around you and see how the clinic has been set up. Aside from wearing protective gloves, mask, eyewear -- all disposable -- your dentist should also be using sterilize dental materials. They come in sealed packs that help maintain the sterility of the materials as they are transported from the sterilization area, to the examination room. They are opened inside the room, as they are about to be used by your dentist.
How are the instruments sterilized in the first place? After each use, the materials are first cleaned to remove any debris in the materials. They are soaked in disinfectants so that the debris would not dry out. Oftentimes, the use of ultrasonic cleaners that mechanically cleans the materials is enforced. After they are cleaned and protected from corrosion, they are packaged carefully in order to maintain their sterility. Once that's done, the materials are then sterilized by autoclaving which utilizes steam under pressure. They could also be sterilized using either dry heat, or heat or chemical vapor.
So the next time you visit your dentist, make sure that you pay attention to these details for your own protection.