Traditionally, periodontal hand instruments are honed or sharpened during patient care as they dull easily during contact with enamel, calculus and cementum. This approach is taught in dental and hygiene schools around the world and remains the standard of care. Recently, some professional organizations have questioned whether this practice should be abandoned because of safety issues. Questions have been raised whether sharpening stones can be properly sterilized and whether the sharpening of contaminated instruments poses a health hazard for the provider. Using bacteria culture techniques and scanning electron microscopy, we tested whether contaminated ceramic sharpening stones can be sterilized. Our results demonstrate that the stones were sterile after being subjected to the manufacturer's sterilization protocol. In addition, over the last year, no incidents related to periodontal instrument sharpening have been reported among nearly 400 students at the faculty of dentistry, University of British Columbia, where chair-side sharpening is taught. Therefore, we conclude that ceramic sharpening stones can be sterilized using normal office protocols and that chair-side sharpening adds little risk beyond routine handling of operatory or periodontal instruments during patient care when proper protocols are followed.