Medical and Dental

Taking a Bite – Dental Burs

You’re sitting nervously in the dentist’s chair. Dr. Hurt is preparing your abscessed tooth for a root canal. Your mouth is pried open wide enough to swallow a baseball, and all you can hear is the high-pitched whine of the drill while a fine mist of bone particles, water and blood swirls through the harsh glare of the dental light. Is this really a good time to ask your dentist where he buys his cutting tools?

If you want to avoid the gut-wrenching pain that comes from a dull or cheaply made dental bur, you should give that some thought before you sit down. The quality of your visit to the dentist is largely determined by the tools he or she buys. But how are those incredibly tiny and sharp cutting tools manufactured in the first place, and what makes one better than the next?

There’s no tooth fairy when it comes to dental bur selection. Michael Quigley, senior engineer at SS White Burs Inc., Lakewood, N.J., said there are hundreds of shapes and sizes available, ranging from 0.5mm-dia. tools to 3mm- to 4mm-dia. “piranhas.”

Grinding processes for dental burs are similar to those used for medical and industrial tools. (Left to right): dental implant drill, industrial bur, orthopedic bur (shoulder and knee surgeries), orthopedic bur with guide pin, and two nickel-titanium root canal reamers. Image courtesy Rollomatic.

“We offer burs for use by dentists performing oral surgery, general and cosmetic dentistry, as well as tools used by dental labs for grinding and smoothing dentures, crowns and bridge work,” he said.

Burs are grouped into two families: those that cut, meaning carbide tools similar to endmills, and those that grind, basically miniature versions of diamond-plated grinding wheels (see sidebar below). “With carbide, the tooth material is shredded and moved away from the cut site, whereas grinding burs remove material by abrasion,” said Quigley. “There are pros and cons to each, and it’s up to the individual dentist to decide which works best for him and his patients.”

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