The Downfall of Reusing Disposables

The Downfall of Reusing Disposables

If one line of defense tumbles, the rest will likely follow

In recent years, disposable products have become the gold standard of infection control protocol. These single-use items are intended to be used on one patient and discarded. They should not be sterilized in an autoclave due to the heat-intolerance of their materials. Compared to reusable (or multi-use) products, disposable products reduce the probability of patient-to-patient cross-contamination and potential cross-infection.

In the not-so-distant past, “reusable” was more common than “disposable.” You may even remember when procedural items, such as saliva ejectors and prophy cups, were cleaned and sterilized to be reused on another patient. Since then, the FDA has repeatedly stated that it is unaware of any data that would establish safe and effective cleaning/sterilization conditions necessary for reuse of any disposable device (OSAP, 2012). Similarly, the CDC advises using single-use devices on one patient only and disposing of them appropriately. However, it is still generally accepted by dental professionals that many single-use products are safe to reuse if sterilized, such as…


Whether burs are single-use or multi-use remains a contested issue. Cleaning can be difficult due to burs’ intricate physical construction, and repeated processing cycles can deteriorate the cutting surfaces enough to potentially break during patient treatment. These factors, coupled with the knowledge that burs exhibit signs of wear during normal use, might make it practical to consider them single-use. A fair amount of resources are spent scrubbing burs and diamonds prior to sterilization, which equates to longer intervals between patients. From an infection control viewpoint, treating burs as single-use eliminates the risk of patient–to-patient cross–infection.


Plastic mouth mirrors are great alternatives to traditional mouth mirrors in that they significantly reduce cross-contamination. However, they are not meant to be reused and their plastic materials are not suitable for the autoclave. Because mouth mirrors are inserted directly into the patient’s mouth, improper sterilization practices can greatly increase the risk of patient-to-patient cross-infection.


Unlike most disposable items, which are single-use in the sense that they may only be used on one patient, face masks are only as effective as their designated time limit. The length of time that a mask protects against infection and cross-contamination depends on its ASTM level (according to FDA guidelines):

ASTM Level 1: 15-20 minutes

ASTM Level 2: 30-40 minutes

ASTM Level 3: 60+ minutes

Why the wide discrepancy between what is regulated and what occurs in the practice? For one, complying with every OSHA regulation and CDC guideline is easier said than done. And, because devices that were considered reusable twenty years ago are now deemed one-time use, adapting to new practices is slow to change. Plus, the misconception that disposables cost more could explain the discrepancy. On average, a dentist spends $20 in disposables to set up an operatory, which fluctuates depending on the number of patients seen per day.

However, the monetary savings gained by reusing disposables are minor when compared to the huge costs of an infection control breach. Although reuse of common disposable items may seem harmless, little things can accrue to a big problem. When it comes to infection control, loosening the slack in one area lessens the overlap and effectiveness of your total chain of infection control. Think of it as a line of dominos — once the first one falls, the rest fall along with it.

At PureLife, you don’t have to risk sacrificing your line of infection control defenses to achieve a happy bottom line. We offer a wide variety of top-quality, cost-competitive disposable items for any procedure. Call us at 877-777-3303 or visit for our complete list of disposables.