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Posterior Composites: Using the Latest

Materials and Techniques

Robert Lowe, DDS
November 2014 Course - Expires November 30th, 2017
Heraeus Online Learning Center

Amalgam, for years the most widely used direct restorative material, is gradually being replaced by
composite resin. The problem with composite restorations in general is that they are technique-sensitive
and time-consuming to place correctly, unlike their amalgam counterparts. Although dental science has
yet to find a bulk-fill, tooth-colored material that is as simple to place as amalgam, practitioners can
reduce the stress and difficulty of performing this common dental procedure by using appropriate
materials, techniques, and tools designed specifically for predictable outcomes using direct composite.
They can also offer patients the benefits of new smart restorative materials to help prevent, arrest, and
reverse tooth decay using minimally invasive methods.
There are few materials in the history of dentistry that has undergone as much of an evolution as
composite resin. The face of restorative dentistry changed forever when successful bonding to enamel
and dentin was achieved. Since then, the goal of clinical and material science has been to find a simple
predictable approach to the composite restorative process.

Amalgam vs. Composite

Compared to dental amalgam, the patrician of direct restoratives, the placement of composite requires
many more steps and exacting technique to achieve the best results. The process of adhesion,
conditioning the tooth surface, and application of primers and adhesives, which is followed by the
layering of composite resins to complete the restorative process, involves many independent steps that
must be properly executed to ensure good results.
For posterior composite restorations in particular, the clinician must also manage challenges related to
operator access and moisture control, as well as soft-tissuerelated problems that often arise with Class
II cavities due to subgingival margin placement. Because composites are traditionally placed in layers,
there are numerous steps and materials required to complete the restorative process and, with them, the
potential for problems such as voids and marginal leakage, which can ultimately lead to restoration
The complexity of performing the steps required to place composite contrasts sharply with those
required for amalgam, although both necessitate the use of a matrix system to restore anatomic proximal
contours and contact areas and prevent proximal gingival overhangs.
For amalgam placement, a Class II procedure typically involves using a Tofflemire matrix to contain the
restorative material, which is then condensed into the preparation. Using an appropriate carving
instrument, the restoration is carved into proper anatomic form. Finally, the occlusion is checked with
articulating paper, and the restoration is adjusted as necessary.

However, with composites, the clinician must first control the clinical environment using isolation
techniques. After isolating the operative area to control moisture contamination and using a specially
designed matrix systemie, a sectional matrixeach increment of composite placement typically
requires: (1) etching; (2) rinsing; (3) drying; (4) desensitizing; (5) placement of adhesive; (6) light-curing;
(7) placing a base or liner, if needed (8) light-curing; (9) placing the increment of composite; and (9)
light-curing. Several increments may be placed and cured before final sculpting of the occlusal surface
of the restoration, checking and adjusting the bite, then placing an optional surface sealant to protect the
marginal areas of the composite restoration.

Composite Material Selection

Amalgam is a material that can be condensed. In other words, when placing amalgam, the act of
condensation actually pushes the lathe-cut particles of alloy closer together. Condensing amalgam
against a matrix can actually cause deformation of the matrix, helping to create a contact with the
adjacent tooth surface.
In contrast, composite, as a class of materials, cannot be condensed. The material is pushed around the
preparation with the placement instrument, but it is not condensed in any way. This makes contact
placement and cavosurface marginal adaptation more of a challenge to the dentist. Unfortunately, many
dentists treat composite as if it were amalgam, and that is where problems can begin. They must choose
from among a wide variety of materials with varying viscosities and consistencies. Some are very
moldable and sculptable. Others, such as composites designed for anterior areas and esthetics, can be
more paste-like and less stiff. Composite resins come in many typesflowables, packables, hybrids,
microhybrids, nano microhybrids, and microfills. In addition, new chemistries are being introduced as an
alternative to the traditional bis-GMAbased composites, reducing the problems of shrinkage, sensitivity,
and strength in the posterior region. Among them, a unique product with nano-dimer conversion
technology (ie, Septodont NDurance, Septodont, is said to offer a monomerto-polymer conversion rate that is significantly higher than traditional bis-GMA composites, as well as
high radiopacity, low polymerization shrinkage, and low polymerization stress.1

Main Challenges with Composites

Establishing tight proximal contacts and eliminating voids between layers, while improving predictability
and time efficiency in placement, remain significant challenges when placing composite restorations.
Recurrent decaythe primary cause of composite failureis often traced to voids in the floor of the
proximal box at the cavosurface margin of a Class II cavity, which is most vulnerable to incomplete filling
(Figure 1).2 While good marginal adaptation can be verified visually, the incremental placement process,
plus the etching and bonding between layers, relies largely on blind faith that the area has been
completely filled. These areas often cannot be seen radiographically unless placed in the same
directional plane as the actual x-ray beam.

The traditional method of placing composite in increments of no more than 2 mm (Figure 2) was meant
to facilitate curing and to avoid polymerization shrinkage, which research suggests is no longer a major
concern with many of todays advanced materials.3 The technique of layering, however, carries a greater
potential to introduce voids into the restoration. Bulk-fill flowables, which are meant to serve as dentin
replacements, can be cured in increments of up to 4 mm (Figure 3). While these materials do have the
potential to eliminate many of the voids by decreasing the number of layers in the restoration, they are
typically not designed with the physical properties required to withstand forces of occlusion and,
therefore, an additional capping (enamel layer) is required.4 There are also bulk-fill packables that can
be placed in 5-mm increments (Figure 4); among them is a sonically placed bulk-fill composite system
(ie, SonicFill, Kerr, that provides sufficient physical properties to withstand
functional forces without the need for a capping layer.5
Replicating Proximal Contact and Contour
In most instances, the Tofflemire universal matrix used for amalgam is not appropriate for use with
composites (Figure 5). There are now a variety of sectional matrices designed specifically to replicate
not just the proximal contact but also the proximal contour (Figure 6). They are positioned between the
restoring surface and adjacent proximal surface and use a ring to gently push the teeth apart, creating
proximal contact and allowing for ideal anatomic placement of a sectional band, which is concave on the
inside and convex on outside, and can replicate the convex contour of the natural proximal tooth surface.
They include Composi-Tight 3D XR (Garrison Dental Solutions,, V4
ClearMetal Matrix System (Triodent,, and Palodent Plus EZ Coat (DENTSPLY
Caulk, When a sectional matrix is placed correctly, very little finishing with rotary
instruments is required.
Depth of Cure
According to a study by Campodonico et al, depth of cure, less than filling technique, is the main issue
for practitioners using todays materials.3 Various methods for achieving this are discussed in the section
on Bulk Fill Technologies in Composite Materials.

Solutions Using New Methods and Materials

Given the time and care involved, a bulk-filling material that can be placed more easily and predictably
and that requires fewer steps is clearly desirable, as long as it does not compromise the quality of the
final result. Although a material that offers clinicians the esthetics their patients want combined with the
ease of placement and predictability of amalgam is still in the future, dentists can still get the desired
results in a timely and cost-efficient manner by using recommended materials and techniques and
understanding how to use them properly.
Additive Placement of Composite Materials
The traditional layering method used by the author for many years includes the use of a flowable
compositeno more than 0.5-mm thickcovering the entire cavity preparation. The flowable layer will
adapt to the intricate geometry of the Class II preparation, including all of the line and point angles, so

that those areas that are hard to condense are adequately covered and protected with resin. The
flowable material also uniformly wets the surface of the adhesive, lessening the chance for voids
between the adhesive layer and the composite. Next, a nano microhybrid is placed in 2-mm increments,
as described above, until the final increment is sculpted into the proper anatomic form and the occlusion
is checked and adjusted as needed. Sculpting and shaping composites using instruments that can
impart a convexity and not decimate the occlusal anatomy, such as a needle interproximal finishing
diamond, are recommended. This means not using an elliptical or round bur that imparts concavities that
destroy the anatomic form of the occlusal surface.
Finishing and polishing the placed composite involves more steps, including the use of rubber abrasives
and a bristle brush with an impregnated polishing medium or diamond paste. After polishing, marginal
areas are re-etched for a few seconds to make sure the surface is clean, then a surface sealant is
applied to fill minor remaining discrepancies between the composite and the tooth that cannot be seen
or felt with an explorer but may still exist.
Alternative Approach to Incipient Caries
Clinicians commonly approach treatment of incipient lesions by treating them either aggressively upon
detection or by waiting until it is deemed necessary. A new type of resin material (ie, Icon, DMG
America, is a resin infiltrate that provides a barrier to prevent acid infiltration
and progression of proximal decay, which could later require the need for more aggressive treatment
methods. Icon resin infiltrate works by blocking the influx of hydrogen ions, a byproduct of bacterial
metabolism that prevents calcium and phosphate ions from leaching out of the tooth. This material,
which is virtually a sealant/protectant, is placed via a membrane device after etching and drying the
proximal surface of the tooth. According to the manufacturer, Icon reinforces and stabilizes
demineralized enamel without drilling or sacrificing healthy tooth structure.
After isolating the tooth and placing wedges to separate the teeth, the affected tooth surface is prepared
with a 15% hydrochloric acid gel to etch the decalcified surface of the lesion. Next, the surface is rinsed,
dried with ethanol (drying agent), and further dried with air. The Icon resin infiltrate, which has a high
penetration coefficient, is applied onto the lesion, the excess is removed as necessary, and the material
is light-cured. The manufacturer recommends applying a second layer of the infiltrate, followed by
additional light-curing, to ensure maximal protection.

Minimally Invasive Dentistry using Smart Materials

Class II Slot Preparation and Restoration Using Giomer Composites
A minimally invasive approach for the restoration of small Class II carious lesions on patients with
suboptimal hygiene may include slot preparation with a fissurotomy bur or hard-tissue laser, which is
followed by the placement of smart materials to help compensate for inadequate hygiene by providing
additional marginal protection through the release of fluoride ions, which are then available to help
recalcify decalcified tooth structure. Giomer composites contain glass filler particles covered with a
glass-ionomer material. A surface-modified layer that covers the glass-ionomer layer protects it and

allows for ion release over time. This ion release at the margins of the restoration can help to protect the
area from acid attack and promote remineralization as needed.6-10
Open Sandwich Technique Using Glass-Ionomer Cement for Dentin Replacement in Deeply
Excavated Lesions
For more deeply excavated lesions whose dentin will have more tubules exposed and less peritubular
dentin to which to bond, glass-ionomer cement forms a chemically fused seal, and its high fluoride
release and internal remineralization help to prevent future decay. Therefore, this material can serve well
as a base or liner in deeply excavated lesions (Figure 6).11-15
Open Sandwich Technique for Root Caries
In the case of a patient requiring a Class II cavity preparation whose margins may be on root surface,
glass-ionomer cement can be placed as a liner or base followed by a composite cap to complete the
restoration (Figure 7). For the open sandwich technique, the glass-ionomer cement base extends to
the internal surface of the matrix and will be in contact with the intracrevicular environment for purposes
of ion exchange.11,16

Bioactive Liners and Foundation Materials

Modification of Closed Sandwich Technique using a Smart Dentin Substitute
In what might be called heroadontia, as an alternative to an extraction and bridge or implant, the
clinician can attempt to restore a tooth using a tri-calcium silicate dentin substituteie, bulk dentin
replacement (eg, Biodentine, Septodont). This type of product can be used for the following types of
situations: pulp exposure, dentin caries, pulpotomies, performation, internal/external resorption, apical
surgery, and apexification. In this modification of the closed sandwich technique, which traditionally
uses glass-ionomer cement, the tri-calcium silicate dentin replacement procedure begins with deep
carious excavation, followed by tooth isolation and disinfection using a product that can include a
desensitizer (eg, GLUMA Desensitizer, Heraeus Kulzer,; AcQuaseal B Dentin
Desensitizer, AcQuamed Technologies The cavity is then filled to the cementenamel junction with Biodentine. After it is set, the material is shaped and smoothed with an end-cutting
bur; afterward, a composite restoration is placed as the enamel increment, completing the restoration.
Bioactive Cavity Lining Agents
Cavities with deep carious excavations, which can potentially lead to pulp exposure, can be excavated
less invasively by using a smart round polymer bur (ie, SmartBur II, SS
White, (Figure 8) to selectively remove affected dentin, followed by placement
of a smart materialie, a bioactive cavity lining agent designed for indirect and direct pulp exposure
(ie, Theracal LC, Bisco, To get a good gingival seal in situations where excavations
are deep in the apical direction, it is essential to control the moisture and bleeding in the operative area.
Therefore, a diode laser is critical for controlling soft tissue, because when caries goes below the
gingival crest, the surrounding tissue is often inflamed. As an adjunct, a hemostatic agent can be used
to help control residual bleeding after use of the diode laser to get the tissue out of the way, so the
matrix can be effectively placed, sealing the gingival margin. Next, the cavity is disinfected, and steps

are completed to place the restorative material. Clinical and radiographic follow-up are important to
determine the success of the procedure.

Bulk-Fill Technologies in Composite Materials

Although the search for a tooth-colored amalgam-like material continues, the author describes his
approach to bulk filling using flowable resins and bulk-fill composites, respectively.
Bulk-Fill Flowable Composite as a Dentin Replacement
After the caries is removed, the tooth is isolated. The placement of the band using a sectional matrix to
restore the proximal contour and contacts is critical. After application of the adhesive, the bulk-fill
flowable and composite capping layers are placed and light-cured, and the matrix band is removed. The
contact is so tight when using a sectional matrix that removal often requires a hemostat. Note the
identical height of the restored marginal ridge as compared to adjacent tooth (Figure 9). This accuracy is
due to the careful placement of the matrix to limit the amount of finishing and polishing that will need to
be done to complete the restoration.
Prior to placement of the bulk-fill flowable resin, the clinician may apply either a self-etch or total-etch
bonding adhesive to the enamel and dentin surfaces, which are then light-cured. The dentin
replacement is achieved using increments of up to 4 mm of one of the bulk-fill flowable materials (eg,
Surefil SDR; DENTSPLY Caulk; Venus Bulk Fill, Heraeus Kulzer; Filtek Bulk Fill, 3M
ESPE,; X-tra Base, VOCO,; Beautifil-Bulk Flow,
Shofu, and light-cured, followed by placement of a nanohybrid enamel layer (eg,
Venus Pearl, Heraeus Kulzer). Each layer is polymerized, then finished and polished. It is common to
have large overhangs using conventional matrices rather than sectional matrices. Interproximal finishing
is achieved using specially designed diamond strips, which can also be used to clear the contact when
teeth are accidentally bonded together without affecting the contact of restorative material (Figure 10).17
There is evidence in the literature that benzelkonium chloride, when present in the etching material,
helps increase the durability of the resin bond by inhibiting the release of matrix metalloproteases.18
Composite Restorations Using Bulk-Fill Composite Materials
There are now conventional composites on the market with altered chemistry to allow for 4-mm or 5-mm
bulk filling without the need for an additional capping layer. They include Tetric EvoCeram Bulk Fill
(Ivoclar Vivadent,; X-tra Fil (VOCO); Aura Bulk Fill (SDI North
America,; and Beautifil-Bulk. In addition, as mentioned above, there is the bulk-fill
packable, SonicFill, which uses a unique handpiece to deliver sonic energy to the composite material,
changing its viscosity during placement. Although these bulk-fill products can be placed in a single step,
the author still prefers to use a flowable composite as a liner because of the lack of condensation
issue, the exception being SonicFill because of the viscosity change during placement. After light-curing
the flowable layer, up to 4 mm of the bulk-fill packable material can be used to fill the remainder of the
cavity preparation. After being sculpted into proper form, the occlusal surface is light-cured, with no need
for an additional capping layer.19-21


A wide variety of materials have been created in response to dentists desire for products that can
simplify the placement of esthetic Class II composite restorations, whose placement can be highly
stressful due to the technique-sensitive and time-consuming layering process. Although there is not yet a
bulk-fill material comparable to amalgam in terms of ease of placement, composite restorations, as a
rule, can be placed far more conservatively. Smart materials designed to combat demineralization and
recurrent decay are welcome advances, as are bulk-fill products that enable the clinician to more quickly
and easily complete the posterior restorations that are such a significant part of the general restorative
dental practice.

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