Design Principles for Class II Preparations

This article will be published in Oral Health Journal in December/January 2013. A sequel will follow to delineate instrumentation and technique for Class IIs for composite resin. Modifications of Class II GV Black Preparations for Composite Resin-Instrumentation


By Dr. Peter Walford, DDS, FCARDP

About the author: Dr. Walford mentors study clubs in British Columbia in Composite Rein technique, maintains an educational website www.peterwalforddentistry.comexternal link, and is a fellow of the Cnadian Academy Restorative Dentistry and Prosthodontics.

This article follows a previous article, published in Oral Health Journal, December 2011, concerning preparations and instrumentation for Class V and Incisal Attrition restorations.http://www.oralhealthgroup.com/news/preparations-in-composite-resin-part-i-principles-and-instrumentation-for-class-v-cusp-tips-and/1000738881/?type=Print%20Archives


A sound restoration cannot begin with a flawed preparation. Amalgam preparations reached consensus more than a century ago. However, after 30 years, posterior composite preparations have not been formulated into a definitive textbook. No one method is accepted by university circles, dental communities, or the majority of the profession. Without consensus on fundamentals, how can a standard of care be defined or measured?

Studies of posterior composite longevity show variable results; some reveal only 7 years in Class II composite resin restorations years Refs.1,2,3 Others indicate annual failure rates of 1 to 3 percent Ref.4,5. Some studies correlate success with number of surfaces Ref.2. While some branches of the profession claim a near-epidemic of premature failure in Class II composite restorations, other studies show better survival than amalgam Ref.6.The variability of findings suggest that technique variation is responsible for defying common outcomes.

Preparation design is seldom detailed in these studies, yet it is describable, measurable, amenable to scientific exploration, and simple enough to develop consensus. This article explores the clinical and scientific evidence for preparation axioms for simple to extensive Class II direct composites. These concepts and methods have been developed by the writer for study clubs mentored in British Columbia since 2004.

The goal of this article is to foster professional debate to potentially resolve current points of dispute.


All our data on enamel adhesion is laboratory-based on fresh cut facial bovine enamel. To achieve the megapascals promised by these tests, we need to duplicate these conditions clinically. Five enamel axioms, if applied, create optimum enamel adhesion. Fig 1. Similarly, five dentin axioms drive preparation internal form Fig 2. These axioms and resulting methods unify clinical, histological, and adhesive driving forces, and require us to modify and supplement GV Black cavity design. Successfully applied, properly matrixed, well-cured, with correct materials, a long-lasting restoration of almost any size can be delivered.


Optimum rod-end enamel etching increases surface area ten to 20-fold and penetrates up to 20 microns. Stable, cohesive adhesion grips rod-ends. The surface of mature teeth is an amorphous layer of highly fluoridated, remineralized enamel averaging 10 microns in thickness, as seen in Fig 3. .This layer resists etching, particularly in populations where fluoridated toothpaste is commonly used.

Fig 3: SEM of remineralized amporphous enamel

It is important, but perhaps less widely understood, that the outer layer of remineralized enamel crystals lack rod structure. Being generated from salivary constituents, this layer is disorganized and not cohesive with underlying enamel rods. When bonded to remineralized enamel, the restoration disconnects from deeper rod-ends. "Prep-less restorations", i.e., enamel untouched by the operator, are hence categorically inferior in retention and seal not just due to the lack of penetration into this etch-resistance enamel, but also due to underlying structural disconnection from the cohesive rod structure of the tooth. Preserving ten microns of tooth structure in the name of conservatism is misplaced and erroneous design. True conservatism revolves around restoration lifespan, and the desire to avoid premature re-treatment.

Therefore this outer layer should be removed by either light air abrasion, rotary carbides (not diamond burs)Ref.7, or ultrasonic instrumentation during preparation. Operator preference, morphology, and clinical contingencies guide the choice: all are effective in removing this 10 micron layer of amorphous enamel.


The natural resistance of the sides of the rod sheath (rod side) to acid dissolution by virtue of the arrangement of the hydroxyapatite crystal lattice is nature's way of limiting lateral spread of caries. Resin technique must adapt to this biological given.

According to Munichika et al, Ref.8“When the transverse section or face of the crystal, rather than its side, is exposed to acid, the central core of the crystal is most susceptible to acid dissolution. Resin bond strengths are twice as high when adhering to the acid-etched ends of the crystals as compared to the sides of the crystals” Therefore, the most tenacious adhesion will be achieved when the enamel surface presents rod ends intrinsically, Fig.4, Fig.5 or they are exposed by a bevel,Fig.6

Fig. 4 Schematic of rod-ends

Fig.5 Facial surface presents rod-ends for bonding

Fig 6, Schematic of rod-ends prepared to a bevel


Bevel options are represented schematically in Fig.7. Besides increased adhesion, bevels decrease microleakage, Ref.9.

Fig.7 Bevel Options

In G.V. Black (GVB) amalgam Class I and II technique, occlusal margins in preparations are intrinsically obliquely transected, viz., bevelled, because occlusal anatomy itself is inclined. This generates an automatic enamel bevel in the occlusal preparation. But the proximal box walls feature butt margins - 90 degrees to the cavosurface. Relative to this axiom, the occlusal portion is correct, but the box is not.

Therefore, while occlusal portions might deliver a full 30MPa with a high-performance adhesive, only 15 MPa will be expected in the proximal box. This weak link jeopardizes the restoration because 15MPa approaches the threshold for de-bond under contraction forces.

To compound the issue, many popular adhesives, both etch-and-rinse or self-etch, deliver less than 30 MPa to enamel, the current range being from 17.4 to 32.8 Ref.10,11. Adhesion in the box in the lower quartile of this population can be expected to be half of these figures, i.e., dangerously low.

In a GVB box, the enamel on the gingival floor inclines apically, following the orientation of enamel rods as they approach the CEJ. But cold steel margin trimmers are not capable of transecting enamel rods; only of fracturing out weak and unsupported ones. True beveling of the gingival floor requires cutting rods obliquely with a carbide or diamond instrument.

From the summary of the above points, it can be seen that without beveling box margins, the floor and walls of GVB boxes hover in the danger zone. Failure in two modes can occur during cure and polymerization:

1. Adhesive Failure: “Resin Separation”
If an overly large increment, generating excessive contractility is placed, the restoration can separate from an under-etched butt margin during polymerization. The resin is sound, the enamel is sound, but a void develops because the adhesive limit is exceeded. White line may be visible. Failure ensues.

2. Cohesive Failure: Enamel “Peel”

The restoration adheres to the immediate enamel sides, but because contraction is not dissipated into multiple rods, as it does when a bevel is engaged, stress concentrates along a single plane of rods. When this tug-of-war exceeds the inherent inter-sheath cohesion of enamel, rods ‘peel' apart and enamel self-destructs between contiguous rod sheaths,as represented schematically in Fig.8 This damage may also be visible clinically as white line, but the intrinsic mode is different from separation.

Fig.8 Schematic of enamel rod "peel"

Both modes of failure fail aesthetically, Fig.9 developing brown line and marginal stain. Clinical collapse through leakage, dentin bond hydrolysis, restoration loss, and recurrent decay ensues.

Fig.9 Marginal stain due to de-bond -"peel" or "separation"


Bevels are defined as oblique cuts through enamel extending without interruption from DEJ to cavosurface. Four incrementally increasing bevels are shown in Fig 7. above
1. Bevel of 6 degrees- indicated for enamel 1 mm thick
2. Bevel of 12 degrees –indicated for thinner enamel or to resist large resin mass contraction
3. Bevel of 45 degrees- indicated in thin enamel near the CEJ
4. Bevel of 60 degrees- indicated for cosmetic blending


Enamel is composed of 30,000 to 40,000 enamel rods per square millimeter of tooth. Ref.12. The number of rods in one linear millimeter of enamel is found by taking the square root of these figures, namely, 173 to 200 rods per millimeter. When a bevel transects rods from DEJ to a point beveled one-tenth of a millimeter past a butt margin, 17 to 20 rods, one-tenth the above number, are transected.

To calculate the angle of the bevel, the tangent function of the bevel is required. A bevel of 6 degrees, tangent = 0.10, cuts 0.10 of a millimeter at the cavosurface (assuming an enamel thickness of 1 mm.), transecting 20 rods. A twelve degree bevel, tangent = 0.20, incurs a cavosurface loss of two-tenths of a millimeter, transecting 40 rods. This is summarized in Fig.7, above.

In this author’s study clubs, stable, functional results with excellent cosmetics over nearly a decade have been clinically achieved using bevels between 6 and 12 degrees- i.e., a cavosurface increase in footprint of only one to two-tenths of a millimeter,respectively, assuming enamel 1mm thick. A 45 degree bevel was considered ideal for composite margins at the start of the composite era.Ref.12. The tangent of 45 degrees- an isosceles triangle - is 1.0, and entails an increase in the enamel footprint of 1 millimeter, transecting 200 rods. At ten times greater enamel loss, this is a clearly unconservative and apparently clinically avoidable price to pay.

Generally, 6 to 12-degree bevels are imparted to surfaces accessible by FG 7406 carbide, held at ninety degrees to the cavosurface. The tapered bullet–form of this bur, mated to the operator’s choice of handpiece angulation, imparts the desired bevel Ref.13. Due the 12-bladed design and low rake angle, a smooth, consistently bevelled, and easily finished margin is defined. However, the Class II box does not permit this instrumentation.

A sixty degree bevel is voracious, committing the patient to a facial loss of 1.73 mm, transecting 346 rods. It is rarely necessary except for ultra-critical aesthetic applications, and far exceeds the structural requirement.


Etched enamel, properly accomplished, is the principal driver of increased surface area and hence adhesion. Etching increases area by 1000 to 2000 percent, Ref.12. However, proprietary etchants are vastly dissimilar. A range of 1000% in efficacy is noted between etchants in Table 1, prepared from data in Ref.12. Observe that 37% liquid phosphoric acid is superior to most gels.

Table 1. Efficacy of liquid phosphoric acid, from Summitt and Robbins, Table8-3, page 214

Confirming the importance of etch as a factor, a recent study Ref.15, in Reality 2012 Yearbook http://www.realityesthetics.com/portal/external link reveals that enamel shear bond strength varies nearly 25%, from 22 to 27 MPa, using five popular gel etchants with the same bonding agent. Data is summarized in Table 2, below.

Table 2 Shear Bond Strength with five differing etchants,same adhesive.

Self-etching adhesives show equally wide variation in pH, Ref.15, from 1.2 to 2.7, with commensurate variability in enamel etching efficacy.Thus, even ideal preparations may under-perform if acid etching falls below criteria, whether embedded in adhesive chemistry, or whether a separate etch-and-rinse protocol is followed.

Being an invisible parameter, the importance of etchants to longevity is often overlooked. Sadly, resin technique refuses to be simple: it is inherently complex and exacting.


Class II occlusal extension, beyond considerations of cariology, is driven by the need to provide longevity. Normal teeth wear at approximately 30 microns per year16. Many worn adult dentitions have thinned enamel. Occlusal finish lines placed in thin enamel may wear through to dentin prematurely, necessitating re-restoration. Therefore, enamel thicknesses on the occlusal surface should be thick enough to meet the patient’s life expectancy, factored from the above, at an average of 0.3 mm wear per decade. Extension of the occlusal outline into thicker cusp structure may be indicated to achieve adequate service life.


Meshing with the above is the requirement that large resin masses need to be met with equally robust enamel mass. When enamel is thin, it cannot accept large contraction loads. If thin, finish lines should be moved to a coronal location that has robust remaining enamel. This may require cusp shoeing if no appropriate mass of enamel presents on the occlusal table. If enamel mass is nearly sufficient, beveling increases effective area and may be all that is needed to preserve enamel cohesion against contraction. When proportionality cannot be attained, a low-contraction resin placement protocol is indicated to reinforce fragile enamel before contraction by a large contiguous resin mass, or, alternatively, indirect restoration may be indicated.


Many practitioners believe that adhesion for resin restorations is increased by “roughening” the bonding surface with diamond burs. The intuitive sense that a rough surface is more tenacious than a smooth one is misguided. While bondability of a diamond-abraded surface is increased, it is no better than air-abrasion in removing amorphous surface enamel Ref.17. The gain in area is insignificant compared to the gain of 1000 to 2000 percent attained through acid etching.Ref.12

Most importantly, the gain in surface area by diamond roughening is obtained at the expense of the integrity of the enamel layer. The spinning diamond projections of rotary diamond burs shatter, undercut and damage enamel, breaking the cohesion of enamel rods.Ref.18. A sound restoration cannot ensue from a tooth broken by the preparation process: a diamond-abraded margin is less cohesive and weaker as a bonding substrate than one prepared with a spiral-cut, non-crosscut carbide bur, or air-abraded.


Factors governing the dentin in preparation are more concise than enamel.


This step removes biofilm, etch-resistant fluoridated dentin, and hyper-mineralized sclerotic dentin surfaces. As with enamel, removal of only microns is required.


Rounded internal line angles: transitions from one plane to another should be rounded. Stress traveling within the resin, like flowing water, should not abruptly change direction over sharp internal form. This compares to the turbulence of a stream flowing over and around rocks: smooth, laminar flow is preferable.
Elimination of stress risers:

Sharp internal form, such as seen after tooth fracture, Fig.10, must be eliminated.

Fig.10 sharp internal form leading to stress concentration

This structural principle is widely honored in diverse engineering applications, from utility knives to airplane wings. Where does a scored utility knife blade break? - where intended - at the scored lines. Equally, in the structurally imperative world of aircraft safety, a tiny nick in a wing surface mandates panel replacement, recognizing that any flaw in a continuous surface becomes an axis around which repeat flexure takes place, leading to localized fatigue and material failure. Resin is the more fluid element in tooth/resin interactions, because the elastic modulus of most current resins ranges from 8 to 10 gigapascals (GPa), compared to that of dentin, which is higher, at 12 to 14 GPa. Enamel is markedly higher at 80GPa. These figures are represented in Table 3.

Table3. Elastic modulus of dentin, enamel, flowable, resin

Because the flexural strength of most hybrids ranges from 85 to 170 Megapascals (MPa), compared to dentin at 220 MPa, resin is also the weakest element in the final restoration. Being the weakest in load-carrying capacity, and flexing the most, it is likely to fail first, and fracture will most likely initiate around sharp internal projections which concentrate stress.


When treating visible surfaces, consistent axial depth on the facial surface leads to consistent aesthetics. Just as in laboratory ceramics, direct materials need room to develop aesthetics. In outer dentin, pulpal encroachment is of no concern, but stained tooth structure needs depth of overlying resin to be effectively hidden. Fig.11 shows a failure to cover stained tooth structure in tooth #15 due to insufficient depth.

Fig.11 Stained giingival portion of restoration tooth #15 due to insufficient depth


Strength increases as the square of the depth in most load-carrying structures, such as beams. The application of this axiom in prep design is pre-emptive: shallow restorations exposed to point loads, for example, the distal marginal ridge of mandibular first bicuspids, may fail at the fossa if the pulpal floor is too shallow. The fossa is where the strain between marginal ridge, which is strained in compression, meets the isthmus, which is strained in tension. A material path in the prep must be provided, of sufficient depth and volume, through which these strains can travel and resolve. Clinical experience and judgment informs the spatial need from case to case, according to the resin selected. Because performance varies as the square of depth, small increases in size can pay large dividends. The flexural strength of hybrid and nano-hybrid resins governs outcomes greatly, and varies from 85 to 166 Megapascals, i.e., 200%, while Elastic Modulus varies from 3.8 to 22 GPa, 700%. Therefore, different outcomes will be seen in similar preparations when different resins are placed. While currently, to know the parameters of any chosen resin, clinicians must spend considerable time in perusing scientific product brochures, or, worse, in correspondence with manufacturers, it would be better if this information was readily available in product packaging via a recognized "barcode" system. Towards a Resin Bar Code


Adhesion to dentin generally declines over time, so that efficient macro-retentive features such as dovetails and parallel or convergent walls can supplement adhesion and improve durability. Conventional GVB resistance form, e.g., gingival and pulpal floors, relieves adhesives of shear loading. Mechanical interlocks and reciprocal retention improve stress transfer from tooth structure to the restoration and reduce cyclic fatigue at the adhesive interface as it ages. This axiom is concisely expressed as “Form Spares the Bond”


These ten axioms apply to preparation design and drive the operator in the choice of burs and the development of the internal form of a composite Class II preparation. In an upcoming issue of Oral Health, this article will be continued, detailing instrumentation and outcomes, to illustrate the application of this theoretical framework to daily practice. This sequel is found on this website at Modifications of Class II GV Black Preparations for Composite Resin-Instrumentation


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10.Reality Yearbook 2012, ppg 187-189, Bonding agents, self-etch.Reality Publishing ISSN 1041-8199

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12.Fundamentals of Operative Dentistry, Summitt & Robbins, Quintessence Publishing, Illinois pg. 8.

13.Walford, P. Preparations In Composite Resin Part I: Principles And Instrumentation For Class V, Cusp Tips, And Incisal Attrition Oral Health Journal Dec 2011

14.Reality Yearbook 2012, ppg 525 Bonding Agents, etch and rinse. Reality Publishing ISSN 1041-8199

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18.Xu HH, Kelly JR, Jahanmir S, Thompson VP, Rekow ED Enamel subsurface damage due to tooth preparation with diamonds. J Dent Res. 1997 Oct;76(10):1698-706.