What are Disposable Forceps?

Kay Paddock

Disposable forceps are hinged instruments used in both medical and dental applications to grasp or clamp tissue and to remove things from and put things into the body. These instruments are also called tweezers, clips, tongs or clamps when used outside the medical field. Disposable forceps usually are made from plastic or nylon and come sealed in a sterile package. They're meant to be thrown away after one use and can be used in the place of carbon-steel reusable forceps in almost every situation.

Forceps and other instruments are typically sterilized in an autoclave.
Forceps and other instruments are typically sterilized in an autoclave.

There are two basic types of disposable forceps: locking and non-locking. Locking forceps have a hinge in the middle or near the end where the forceps are held. These are used as clamps or whenever there's a need to hold an object indefinitely. Non-locking forceps usually either have a hinge at one end, much like tweezers, or a hinge in the middle, like a pair of scissors. Dental forceps of this type are used to extract teeth and resemble a pair of pliers. Non-locking disposable forceps only grasp when the person holding the forceps applies pressure.

Plastic forceps have become popular because they reduce the risk of cross-contamination. Stainless steel forceps used for things such as surgeries and biopsies must be sterilized in an autoclave between uses. If plastic, disposable surgical equipment is used, however, there's no risk that the sterilization will be done improperly and possibly transfer bacteria to another patient.

Both reusable and disposable forceps can be used for a variety of different purposes. Kelly forceps, for example, are a type of hemostatic forceps that lock and are designed to clamp off blood vessels during surgery. Uterine forceps are another type that are used to grip the head of an infant as it's being born to help aid in childbirth. Disposable forceps are sometimes used during tissue biopsies to hold and remove tissue to be tested, and they're often used during wound dressing to hold gauze and the needle used to make sutures.

Disposable forceps typically end up costing more than reusable forceps because they're designed to be thrown away after only one use. Reusable forceps cost more to purchase, and there is a cost involved in sterilization, but the cost of disposable surgical equipment usually still amounts to more over time. Hospitals and dental offices have to weigh the added cost against the lower risk of contamination between patients. They also must consider the time it takes to process and sterilize reusable equipment, which isn't necessary when using disposable forceps.

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