Autoclave is an equipment used to remove microorganisms and spores using high pressure and high temperature steam sterilization. It is a pressurized device designed to heat aqueous solutions above their boiling point at normal atmospheric pressure to achieve sterilization. Liquid water cannot be heated to a temperature above 100oC in an open vessel as it boils. When water is heated in a sealed vessel, there is an increase in pressure which raises the boiling point of water. The steam that is formed from the pressure is used to remove pathogenic lifeforms from the instruments and equipment that are subjected to sterilization. The principle is that moist heat is more effective than dry heat in killing microorganisms.
The dental autoclave functions similar to a pressure cooker. Hence it is sometimes referred to as the dental pressure cooker. The boiling point of water is directly proportional to the pressure of the system, provided the volume is kept constant. Therefore, when the pressure is increased inside the closed vessel to about 15 pounds of pressure per square inch, the temperature rises to 121oC. The pressure and temperature are kept constant or 20 minutes during the sterilization cycle. The dental pressure cooker kills all the vegetative and spore forms of the organism.
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