Skip to main content
Toggle Menu of ADA WebSites
ADA Websites
Toggle Search Area
Toggle Menu
e-mail Print Share

ADA, CDC work together to clarify handpiece infection control recommendations

March 16, 2018

By David Burger

Atlanta — Responding to an urgent request from the ADA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released information regarding infection control for dental handpieces.

The original CDC guidelines recommended heat sterilization for all components of handpieces that can be removed from air and waterlines of the dental unit. This recommendation was based on studies that demonstrated how internal components of air-driven low- and high-speed dental handpieces may become contaminated with patient material during use, and that retained patient material may then be expelled intraorally during subsequent uses.

CDC continues to recommend that dental practitioners follow CDC guidelines and clean and heat sterilize handpieces and other intraoral instruments that can be removed from the air and waterlines of dental units.

For handpieces that are independent of air and waterlines, such as cordless devices, CDC advises that dental practitioners should follow current U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulatory policies. Practitioners should use FDA-cleared devices and follow the validated manufacturer’s reprocessing instructions for these devices. For example, if a handpiece that does not attach to air and waterlines has FDA clearance and the validated manufacturer’s instructions for use do not include heat sterilization, dentists should follow the validated manufacturer’s reprocessing instructions for that device.

State boards of dentistry that require heat sterilization for all handpieces, even those described immediately above, are misinterpreting the CDC guidelines, according to the ADA Council on Dental Practice.

If a dental handpiece cannot be heat sterilized, and it does not have FDA clearance with validated instructions for reprocessing, regardless of whether or not it attaches to air and waterlines, practitioners should not use that device.

If a dentist is concerned about the validity of the manufacturer’s reprocessing instructions, or believes that the instructions are not consistent with basic infection prevention and control principles, they can contact the manufacturer to request documentation of FDA clearance of the device in question. If the manufacturer is not able to provide sufficient information, dentists can contact FDA’s Office of Compliance for assistance, at or 1-240- 402-7675.

“This is a great example of the ADA successfully collaborating with partners to support its members and patients,” said Dr. Craig Ratner, chair of the ADA Council on Dental Practice. “Infection prevention and control is an essential part of providing safe treatment.”

ADA policy, passed by the House of Delegates at the 2012 annual meeting, supports the implementation of standard precautions and infection control recommendations appropriate to the clinical setting, per the CDC’s 2003 Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Health Care Settings. This policy includes implementation of CDC recommendations for the prevention and management of exposures involving nonintact skin, mucous membranes and percutaneous injuries.

To help dentists implement solid infection control procedures, the ADA offers The ADA Practical Guide to Effective Infection Control. Readers can save 15 percent on this and all ADA Catalog products with promo code 18108 until April 27. To order, visit or call 1-800-947-4746.

For more information, see CDC’s website on Infection Prevention and Control in Dental Settings.