Finishing and Polishing Composite Resins
Technique with Aluminum Oxide Cups
Important steps for a successful direct
resin restoration are contouring, finishing, and polishing. Proper finishing
and polishing greatly improve aesthetics, maximize patients’ oral health,1
and increase the longevity of restorations.2
Unfortunately, the proper sequence of polishing steps necessary to achieve
optimum results is often overlooked.3
Proper technique is actually quite simple and extremely efficient once the future
practitioner understands the concept behind the finish and polishing process.4,5
Finishers and Polishers Overview
Different types of composites
call for different polishing techniques, depending on the type of restoration
and the dentist’s ultimate goals. Available finishers and polishers include
diamond impregnated polishers, aluminum-oxide polishing pastes, and aluminum-oxide
polishers. Thorough and complete finishing and polishing requires the use of a
sequential series of finishing and polishing burs, discs, strips, and pastes.
Following the proper sequence of materials ensures the long-term health and
polishability of restorations. If a part of this process is skipped, the tooth
will often be left rough and susceptible to plaque and staining. Either
multi-fluted carbides or fine diamonds for gross contouring can be used to
begin finishing the restoration.
Discs can be used for the
contouring of all tooth surfaces as well as bulk reduction of excess material.
Discs will help contour and finish curved surfaces such as labial proximal line
angles, lingual marginal ridges, cervical areas, incisal edges, shaping and
finishing of incisal corners, plus finishing and polishing of labial surfaces.
They are also excellent for contouring and finishing of posterior marginal
ridge areas, and for lingual and buccal surfaces.
Use of a multi-disc sequence is designed to gradually reduce the amount of
roughness caused by initial abrasion until a smooth glossy tooth surface is
achieved. To provide maximum control for the operator, composite finishing
should be done under low-speed/high-torque (speed from 0 rpm to 30,000 rpms).
coarse grit is the stiffest of all the discs. This grit is used in conjunction
with multi-fluted finishing burs for gross contouring and shaping. When used
with pressure, the coarse disc makes it easy to blend the composite into the
tooth surface, eliminating the white line and raised margins.
medium grit should be used to continue smoothing the restoration surface.
Medium grits remove any remaining imperfections and marks.
part of the grit sequence is where polish really starts to shine through. The
fine grit helps remove the smallest imperfections while adding a nice luster to
superfine grit further refines the surface smoothness attainable to create a
highly polished restoration.
Diamond strips help start the
inter- proximal finishing process while maintaining the integrity of the
interproximal contact. A larger-grit (45-µm strip) should be used for
interproximal stripping of natural teeth or for gross removal of material, and
smaller grits (15 µm and 30 µm) should be used to start interproximal
Aluminum oxide strips should be
used to contour and polish interproximal areas. Use of a high-quality strip
will remove tenacious stains and create a high polish at the interproximal
without damaging the soft tissue. It is important that the strip is thin and
will stay intact as it is drawn through the interproximal contact areas.
Aluminum-oxide cups should be
used to polish gingival margins, achieve labial characterization and anatomy,
and effectively reach areas such as the gingival third and the gingival margins
of anterior teeth. Aluminum-oxide points should be used to create labial
grooves in veneers, to finish and polish occlusal surfaces of posterior teeth,
and on lingual surfaces of anterior teeth.
An aluminum-oxide polishing paste
should be used as the last step in the finishing and polishing process.
Polishing paste with felt discs and points can be used to bring out the final
beautiful polish of composites, metals, porcelain, or natural dentition after
Before finishing and polishing,
the dentist must conceptualize the desired end result. The dentist will not
have to work as hard to obtain lifelike results if the restoration is
pre-contoured to the correct shape and form before polishing. Many
practitioners lose the shape of the restoration because of a lack of attention
to the material application phase. Many dentists have a tendency to over-bulk
the composite, and end up losing the intended shape. It is much easier to
obtain the desired result if the composite is initially placed into the correct
anatomical form and only slightly over-contour from the facial aspect.
Finishing and polishing should be
achieved with a low-speed, high-torque handpiece, typically anywhere from 7,000
rpm to 30,000 rpm. A high-speed handpiece may be used to pre-contour, but using
anything over 30,000 rpm during finishing and polishing is too high. Low-speed,
high-torque is preferable, because it gives the operator complete control.
The best finishing and polishing
technique depends on the type of restoration the dentist is presented with.
When polishing a Class IV restoration, for instance, the dentist should rely
mainly on discs. However, cups and points will help develop more realistic
characterization when polishing a veneer. A step-by-step guide to polishing on
various restorations is outlined below.
Class III, IV, and Diastema
Starting with a coarse disc or a
carbide-finishing bur, the restoration can be completely contoured moving from
restorative material to tooth surface, similar to burnishing metal. This can be
done in a wet or dry field. The material should be extended well past the long
bevel, and the dentist should not come back to the beveled margin. The final
restoration should be feather-edged onto the tooth surface past the beveled
margin. If done properly, any white line or raised margin will completely
disappear. At this stage, the disc should be flexed for maximum finishing
The different grit sizes—medium,
fine, and superfine—should be continued through in succession. An enamel-like
luster rapidly appears. The interproximal process should be started with
diamond strips to maintain the integrity of the contact. One or two times
through the interproximal should be sufficient, followed with the
fine-superfine aluminum oxide strip on dry surface until no resistance is felt,
and a smooth surface is apparent. For the final polish, an aluminum oxide
polishing paste with felt discs and points should be used. This is the step
that really brings out the amazing final polish.
On occlusal or incisal margins,
5/8” or 1/2” coarse disc should be used past the long bevel. Discs are always
preferred on exposed margins. To start finishing from restoration to tooth
surface, a coarse disc is used, followed by medium and then fine; finishing
with the superfine disc to achieve maximum polish. The 3/8” disc should be used
at the gingival margin. Although this is a small diameter, the 3/8” disc can be
flexed to gain access to hard-to-reach areas. The gingival half of the
restoration can be polished nicely using flexible cups, but rubber must be kept
off the occlusal and incisal margins.
If Class V restoration invades
the proximal surfaces, the diamond strips and aluminum oxide strips should be
used in the narrow width for polishing these surfaces. An aluminum-oxide
polishing paste with felt discs and points is recommended for the final polish.
Full Resin-Bonded Veneer
The coarse disc or contouring bur
is used to start contouring and finishing. The coarse and medium discs can be
used to complete the contouring of the veneer. It is desirable to maintain the
character and anatomy placed in the facial surface. This cannot be done with
discs, but cups and points are very useful for this purpose. To characterize,
the cup is placed flat on the tooth surface, flexed slightly, and run with
pressure up and down the tooth surface. Blunting off sharp edges on a green
stone prior to characterizing prevents scarring and over-characterization.
After a grooved surface has been
developed, augmenting with rubber points highlights the grooves. Polishing the
surface is completed with fine and then superfine polishing discs. To polish
the interproximal surfaces, diamond and aluminum-oxide strips are used as
previously described. For the final polish, an aluminum-oxide polishing paste
with felt discs and points is used.
The proper contouring, finishing,
and polishing of anterior restorations is a key component to the long-term
success of bonded restorations. First, the appropriate restorative materials,
from composites to polishers, must be carefully selected to help get the job
done right. Then, the dentist must conceptualize the desired end result, and
set up the restoration accordingly. And, finally, the proper finishing and
polishing technique must be executed in order to achieve maximum restorative
1. Jefferies SR. Abrasive
finishing and polishing in restorative dentistry: a state-of-the-art review. Dent
Clin North Am 2007;51(2):379-397.
2. Turkun LS, Turkun M. The
effect of one-step polishing system on the surface roughness of three esthetic
resin composite materials. Oper Dent. 2004;29(2):203-211.
3. Mopper KW. How do composite
resins stand the test of time? Dent Today. 2004;23(5):74-79.
4. Mopper KW. Let’s talk
composites! Dent Today. 2008;27(10):120-122.
5. Craig RG, Ward ML (eds). Restorative
Dental Materials. Mosby, St. Louis, 1997,p263.