Written by Dr. Dennis Hartlieb
January 2024

Choosing the Right Composite Instruments for Restorative Dentistry

Choosing the right combination of composite instruments is critical for achieving successful restorative outcomes. This blog shares crucial aspects dentists should consider when selecting composite instruments, including material, shape, size, and more.

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(Read time 8 - 10 minutes)

Are You Using the Right Composite Instruments?

Utilizing the correct composite instrument(s) is one of the keys for achieving successful outcomes in restorative dentistry. 

Example of different placement instruments applying opaquer and composite.

1) Types of Composite Instruments

Placement instruments are essential for properly positioning composite material onto the tooth surface, or into the prepared tooth cavity. These instruments ensure that the composite is properly placed and adequately compacted, promoting the adaptation and effectiveness of the resin material. 

1. Composite Placement Instruments

Designed with a flat, rounded or slightly curved paddle-like blade for precise placement and initial condensation of the composite material, these instruments will typically be non-flexible to allow the clinician to provide some pressure with the instrument.

This pressure will help insure adaptation of the composite to the tooth surface, and allow the composite to be molded into position.

Expert tip

The utilization of a gloved finger, cleaned with an alcohol gauze, can be useful in the initial placement of the composite for anterior bonded restorations, such as resin veneers or large Class IV composites

With the composite rolled into a ball, a clean gloved finger (non-textured glove only) can be used to compress the composite over the facial surface of the tooth to expedite the initial placement of the composite.
Composite Placement Instrument in our Peg Lateral Course

Dr. Hartlieb uses a clean gloved finger to apply light incisal microfill composite on a peg lateral restoration.

2. Condensers

Condensers feature smooth, blunt, or rounded ends for compacting and adapting the composite into the cavity preparation, providing for a strong and void-free restoration.

Condensers are generally used for posterior composites, but can be useful for anterior direct composites, such as Class III and Class V composites.
Condenser Instrument from our Class IV Course

Watch as Dr. Hartlieb uses a condenser (Multiuse Instrument, Cosmedent) to allow space for a translucent layer of composite in the Class IV Restoration Course.

3. Brushes

Artist brushes are useful for placing opaquers to aid in the block-out of tooth stains and discolorations, helping to create more esthetic appearing restorations.

Opaquers are also critical to help increase the opacity of the underlying composite, and with light brush strokes, blend the composite resin to tooth structure.

When placing tints, which add color and effects, such as hypocalcifications and translucency, artist brushes can be particularly helpful.

Applying Opaquer Module from Masking the Dark Tooth Course

Watch as Dr. Hartlieb uses a brush to apply opaquer to the tooth in the Masking the Dark Tooth Course.

Fine haired, synthetic brushes are most appropriate for dental composite placement and for smoothing surface composites.

Small, fine tip brushes are most commonly used when opaquing and tinting, while wide, broad brushes are more helpful with surface smoothing of the composite.

Expert tip

A stiff, non-flexible instrument should be used for the initial placement and manipulation of the composite resin.

A wide, flat, surface-coated instrument that prevents ‘tug-back’ of the composite is useful for efficient composite placement for anterior composites, while a rounded ended surface-coated instrument is ideal for posterior composites.

When using artist brushes, it is best to ‘pre-wet’ your artist brush by saturating the brush with a resin-wetting agent, or the opaquer/tint that you will be using, then wiping off the excess resin with a dry gauze.

This ‘pre-wetting’ prevents ‘wicking up’ of the material (opaquer/tint) into the dry bristles and allows the operator to have optimal control of the material to be applied.
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2) Common Types of Contouring and Shaping Composite Instruments

Contouring and shaping instruments aid in sculpting the composite material to resemble the natural anatomy and contours of the tooth, and aid in ‘tucking’ the composite into tight interproximal zones and subgingivally.

These instruments are crucial for achieving a restoration that integrates seamlessly with the patient’s existing tooth, and is helpful in allowing the dentist to create the esthetic and occlusal effects desired.
"I choose composite instruments by shape, ease of use, and how smooth they keep the composite throughout the shaping process."
Kirstin Ramsay, DDS
DOT Premium Member, Survey Response

Example of a contouring and shaping instrument (IPC, Cosmedent) sculpting the composite material.

After the composite material is placed and condensed, composite carvers are utilized to shape the material, mimicking the tooth's natural contours.

If needed, burnishers or artist brushes can then be used to smooth and refine the surface, achieving a restoration that blends seamlessly with the surrounding teeth.

Expert tip

Keep your composite instruments clean; scratched instruments can lead to sticking and dragging of the composite material, affecting the restoration's quality.

During placement of the composite, the use of a lightly dampened alcohol gauze will keep the instrument blade clean and minimize pull-back of the composite.

1. Composite Carvers

Featuring various shaped ends, composite carvers help in shaping the composite material during the contouring process. 

Thin bladed instruments are critical to manipulate the composite material into the interproximal zones between the teeth and into the cervical crevice for teeth in the anterior esthetic zone. These instruments are also highly useful for opening incisal, facial and lingual embrasures.

Composite carvers with rounded or pointed tips can be used to create occlusal anatomy in posterior composites, or to assist in developing facial or lingual anatomy with anterior composites. 
Instrument selection Module from Class V Composite Restoration Course

Watch as Dr. Hartlieb reviews the composite intstruments (PS Multi use, IPC off angle, Cosmedent) he is using in the Class V Composite Restoration Course.

2. Burnishers

Composite resin cannot truly be burnished, but many manufacturers have shifted instruments available from the amalgam armamentarium, to use for composites. 

These instruments can be used to smooth and shape the composite surface
, blending layers of composite and eliminating unnatural contours to maximize the restoration's esthetics.  The shape and size of burners will be dependent on the restoration position, size and shape.

Example of a ball-burnisher Instrument (Cosmedent) supporting a matrix band

3. Brushes

Wide-ended artist brushes, coupled with a modeling resin, can be used to contour and shape the composite restoration.

Fine-haired, synthetic bristle brushes are used in-between various layers of composite, or over the final layer of composite to create a smooth composite surface.
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Expert tip

The correct size brush tip is critical for appropriate smoothing of the composite surface.

Too small of a brush will leave streaks in the composite, while too large of a brush may not allow the clinician to properly follow the contour of the tooth surface.

The clinician should avoid using HEMA based adhesives as a wetting agent for their brush; the HEMA may alter the color of the surface and effect the surface of the composite.

Specific brush wetting materials (Modeling Resin (Bisco), ResinBlend LV (Clinician’s Choice), Brush & Sculpt, (Cosmedent)), should be used conservatively to wet the brush prior to use on the composite surface.

3) Common Types of Finishing and Polishing Composite Instruments

Finishing and polishing instruments are utilized to refine the surface of the restoration, enhancing its smoothness and luster, and to create surface texture effects.

These instruments are essential for achieving a restoration that is aesthetically pleasing with long term surface stability. 

Example of Polishing Instruments.

"I like to use a long flame medium grit diamond from Brasseler for finishing. It’s large and long enough to work in any situation and cuts effectively and smoothly but doesn’t gauge the tooth or composite."
Anthony Varchetto, DDS
DOT Premium Member, Survey Response
Following adequate light polymerization of the composite material, finishing burs and course discs are used to refine the final shape of the surface.

Composite rubber or silicone polishing instruments often in the form of cups, points or discs, are utilized to achieve a smooth and glossy finish, ensuring patient satisfaction and comfort.

Alternatively, polishing discs can be used to import the final polish and luster on the facial surfaces of anterior teeth, though rubber polishing points and wheels are more ideally used for the palatal or lingual surfaces. 

1. Burs

Composite finishing burs are useful to refine the contours and surface of the composite restoration. 

Used with a high-speed hand-piece, these burs will be made of steel, tungsten carbide, or a diamond-impregnated surface, affording various surface qualities to the final composite.

Expert tip

Contouring with a carbide trimming bur (ET series, Brasseler) creates a smooth surface that leads to easy and efficient polishing, whereas diamond burs will leave a more roughened surface that may make it more difficult to create a final smooth surface.

Contouring the composite dry
(without water) will help identify pits and defects in the composite restoration as the composite dust will settle into the defects, helping the operator to identify areas that need additional refinement, or in need of repair.
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Watch as Dr. Hartlieb creates surface texture with a ET9 bur from Brasseler and Polishing discs and cups from Cosmedent.

2. Rubber or Silicone

These polishers, made of rubber or silicone, will help with adding contour and are useful to achieve a high polish on the restoration.  Various shapes, such as cups, points or wheels are available, and are selected based on the restoration size, shape and position. 

Creating Surface Texture Module from Ultimate 6 Tooth Course
Watch as Dr. Hartlieb creates subtle surface texture utilizing a FlexiBrush Flame Dental Polishing Brush in our Ultimate 6 Tooth Composite Veneer Course.
I prefer Mini-discs for wider, accessible facial surfaces. Rubber polishing points for posteriors, mostly flame shaped.
Alta Mekaelian, DDS
DOT Premium Member, Survey Response

3. Discs

While composite discs can be used to help open occlusal embrasures in posterior Class II composite restorations, discs are most commonly used for the facial surfaces of anterior composite restorations.

The discs are available in varying disc diameters and grit size. Coarse discs, or discs with large grit, can be used to remove excess composite, creating shape and contour, and are helpful for idealizing the inicisal edge length of the anterior composite restoration.

Discs with smaller, or finer grit, are used in sequential steps to help with contour, shaping and the final polishing of the composite resin.  Discs are used with a slow speed handpiece, typically with rotational speeds between 5,000 to 15,000 rpm, depending on the amount of resin to be removed and the grit of the disc being used. 

Expert tip

Discs are critical for ideal contouring and polishing of anterior composites. The discs should be used without water to identify pits and defects in the composite surface as the composite dust will settle into these ‘defect’ areas.

To prevent scratching of the composite surface during usage,
the discs should be ‘flexed’ over the composite surface to allow as much of the disc surface to work over the composite surface. The discs are used sequentially from the most coarse to the finest grit, increasing pressure and speed as the grit size of the disc becomes more minute.
Final Polishing Module from Direct Resin Bonded Bridge Course

Watch as Dr. Hartlieb utilizes polishing discs (Cosmedent Flexidisc System) for a high gloss finish in our Direct Resin Bonded Bridge Course in our Direct Resin Bonded Bridge Course.

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The Ultimate Finishing and Polishing Guide for Anterior Composite Restorations 

Check your inbox! We sent the file to your e-mail address. You may also download the polishing guide now.

4) Finding the Right Composite Instruments for You

There are multiple factors to consider when selecting the type of instrument for composite placement and shaping, such as shape, size and angle of the blade, the ‘feel’ of the instrument, the cost of the instrument, and perhaps, most critically, the ‘stick’ or ‘pull-back’ of the composite against the composite instrument. 

The following are the most common materials used for fabrication of the composite instrument. 

1. Stainless Steel Instruments

Usage and Benefits:

Stainless steel instruments are a popular choice due to their durability, cost point, and versatility. These instruments are available with for a wide range of procedures, including placement, condensing, and shaping of composite materials. 

Stainless steel instrument from Hu-Friedy via Henry Schein.

Expert tip

Do not panic if composite material happens to stick to your instrument.

Even if you are using an instrument that is not specially coated to reduce tug-back, wiping the instrument with a lightly dampened alcohol gauze will reduce tug-back of the composite material against the stainless steel instrument.


  • Durability: Stainless steel instruments are robust and resistant to corrosion, ensuring a long-lasting tool life.
  • Strength: Exhibits high tensile strength, allowing for effective manipulation of composite materials. 

  • Ease of Sterilization: Can be easily sterilized, maintaining a high level of cleanliness and safety.  

  • Cost: These instruments are generally less expensive than instruments that have special coatings.  

  • Disadvantage: Devoid of a surface coating, these instruments tend to have ‘sticking’ or ‘pull-back’ to composite during placement and shaping. This ‘pull-back’, can cause the composite material to lift off of the tooth surface, resulting in voids or composite surface interruptions 

Expert tip

These non-coated instruments are the least expensive of the dental instruments used for composite restorations. To maximize their potential, avoid scratches on the blade of the instrument which will cause the composite to more easily stick to the instrument.

2. Titanium Nitride Coated Instruments

Usage and Benefits:
 Titanium coated instruments are ideal for clinicians that are looking for precision in their composite dentistry.

The reduction in stickiness of the composite due to the surface-coating, makes these instruments essential for practitioners wishing to reduce their stress when placing composite restorations.

Titanium Nitride coated instrument from Optimus Dental Supply.

Titanium Nitride coated instrument from Cosmedent.

Titanium Nitride coated instrument from Clinician's Choice.


  • Less 'Pull-back': Titanium coating reduces the stickiness of the composite to the metal instrument, reducing significantly the ‘pull-back’ from the composite. 

  • Lightweight: Titanium Nitride (TIN) coated instruments are lighter than stainless steel, reducing hand fatigue during prolonged procedures. 

  • Biocompatibility: These instruments are biocompatible, minimizing the risk of allergic reactions or adverse tissue responses. 

  • Corrosion Resistance: Exhibits exceptional resistance to corrosion, enhancing durability and longevity. 

Expert tip

The titanium coated instruments are more expensive than the stainless steel instruments and must be handled with more caution.

These instruments should only be used for composite placement and manipulation and absolutely should not be used for other dental procedures, such as cord packing or cement removal.

Titanium coated instruments should be kept clean with alcohol gauze during use and must have any existing composite on the instrument removed prior to autoclaving, as residual composite will become ‘baked’ on to the instrument creating a ‘sticky’ sufrace. 
"The instruments I use are Titanium- coated instruments. I like how the composite does not stick to the instrument. These work well in my hands. The outcome of the restoration is based on my skills and the instruments available to me. With the right instrument for the surface I am restoring, I can achieve my goals efficiently"
Jeremy Peyser, DDS
DOT Premium Member, Survey Response
Right Central Incisor Module from CPR for the Worn Dentition Course

Watch as Dr. Hartlieb utilizes the titanium coated 8A and IPC Instrument (Cosmedent) in our CPR for the Worn Dentition Course.

3. Diamond-Like Carbon (DLC) Instruments

Usage and Benefits
: While there are fewer options for DLC coated instruments in dentistry, these coated instruments are also valuable in their ‘anti-stick’ to composite nature. These instruments are helpful for dentists who want to avoid the ‘pull-back’ associated with stainless steel instruments. 

Composite resin restoration filling tip with DLC coating from B&L Biotech.


  • DLC on instrument tip reduces stickiness for smooth composite placement and sculpting of composite resin  

  • Hard surface protects the tip from scratches  

  • Smooth surface for easy cleaning  

  • Dark coating color maximizes contrast against fillings, and minimizes reflections  

Expert tip

Like titanium coated instruments, the DLC instrument should be handled with care so as to avoid scratching the surface coating. Alcohol gauze should be used to clean the instrument during use and prior to autoclaving to remove any residual composite.

These instruments, like their titanium counterparts, should not be placed into an ultrasonic cleaner as the vibration may cause scratching of the instrument blades as the instruments rub against each other. 

4. Teflon or Plastic/Resin Instruments

Usage and Benefits:
  Teflon is a nonstick material which helps prevent the composite material from sticking to the coated instrument. The Teflon coating allows for easier manipulation and shaping during the restoration process. 

Teflon Coated Composite Instrument from Dental Trade Mart.


  • Teflon coating on instrument tip reduces stickiness for smooth composite placement 

  • Smooth surface for easy cleaning 

  • Maintains during sterilization procedures 

  • Corrosion resistance for durability and longevity 

Expert tip

These instruments are similar to the DLC and titanium coated instruments as they should only be used for composite placement and contouring.

Care in the use and cleaning of these instruments are critical for their longevity. 

5. Plastic/Resin-Based Instruments

Usage and Benefits:  These instruments have the advantage of disposable tips that provide the highest quality of sterility. Various sizes and shapes of tips allows the clinician to control the form and contour of the composite build-up with a smooth surface finish.  

Expert tip

Plastic or resin based instruments are another attempt to create a ‘stick-free’ composite instrument surface to prevent ‘pull-back’ of the composite resin.

Disposable tips or blades may be an advantage for some practitioners. These plastic instruments, in the author’s opinion, are not ideal for manipulating the composite resin into the interproximal zones or into subgingival margins

Plastic-based instrument from Ivoclar


  • Plastic or resin material reduces ‘pull-back’ of composite
  • Smooth surface for easy cleaning
  • Possibility of replaceable/disposable tips 

  • Corrosion resistance for durability and longevity 

Expert tip

Regardless of the instrument used by the clinician, the dental team must be steadfast to remove any composite material remaining on the instrument prior to heat sterilization. 

Composite material that is left on the instrument during the heat sterilization may become permanently ‘stuck’ to the instrument, creating adhesive zones when working with the composite on the tooth. 

Additionally, there must be care that the instrument blades do not become scratched or scuffed, as these blemishes will create areas where composite is more likely to stick, despite the surface treatment.

6. Brushes

Usage and Benefits:
  Brushes can be used to add higher viscosity composite materials, such as opaquers, flowable composites, and tints with precise placement. 

Brushes are typically made of synthetic fibers that can be used with a ‘wetting’ agent to prevent binding of the composite to the brush fibers. Various sizes and shapes of brushes are available to allow the dentist control with composite shaping. 

Dental Composite Brushes from Cosmedent.


  • Fine-haired, synthetic bristles reduce ‘pull-back’ of composite
  • Fine-haired, synthetic bristles reduce ‘streaking’ from brushing composites
  • Wetting agents needed to prevent ‘wicking’ or sticking of composite
  • Option of disposable tips for ultimate sterilization

Expert tip

Select the right shape and size of brush for the particular tooth that is being restored.

Avoid using inexpensive disposable brushes as the bristle size and shape may be inappropriate for the refined material placement and contouring needed with composite restorations. 
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Choosing the Right Composite Instruments Check List:

  • The key feature with composite instruments is the ability for the operator to manipulate the composite with minimal ‘pull-back’ or stickiness of the composite to the instrument.
  • Use an instrument that is coated with a surface that minimizes the ‘pull-back’ for precise placement of composite and reduction in stress during the procedure for the clinician. 
  • Consider other factors when choosing the optimal composite instrument beyond the surface treatment, including the size, shape and angle of the working blade. 
  • Composite placement instrument blades may be flat and broad, or rounded, and are ideal for the initial placement of the composite; these ‘placement’ instruments are typically heavier and thicker with minimal flex.
  • Thin instruments are more appropriate for composite sculpting into tight zones, such as interproximal areas or into cervical crevices.
  • Following polymerization, the composite restoration will need final contouring and polishing. The contouring can be completed with either carbide and diamond burs with a high-speed handpiece.
  • Contouring should be completed without water spray so as better able to identify pits or other defects in the composite surface.
  • Utilizing slow speed rotary instrumentation, larger grit discs can also be used to remove excess composite and create ideal form and contour.
  • Polishing of the composite restorations can be accomplished with the use of fine grit discs and with rubber or silicone cups, points and wheels.
Download the free printable version of this checklist.
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Note from the Author:

Understanding which composite instruments work best in your hands is critical to achieving better restorations. Use this blog as a guide to (1) help you find the right composite instruments, and (2) achieve the best restorative outcomes by gaining confidence with different composite instruments.

I hope this helps you in your practice!

Yours for Better Dentistry,
Dr. Dennis Hartlieb

Dennis Hartlieb, DDS, AAACD

DOT CEO & Founder

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