What is a Dental Bur?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A dental bur is a specialized drill bit used in dentistry. It is inserted into a dental drill and used to remove damaged material from a patient's tooth to prepare it for filling. There are some special needs that must be addressed in the design and manufacture of dental burs, including concerns about infection control, patient comfort, and efficiency. Numerous companies make dental burs and other dental accessories, providing them through catalogs and specialty suppliers.

A dental bur can be used to remove damage enamel before a tooth is filled.
A dental bur can be used to remove damage enamel before a tooth is filled.

The typical dental bur includes a shank for insertion into the drill, a neck attached to the shank, and a head, containing the actual drilling bit. Bits are typically made with very strong metal alloys and may be coated with materials like industrial diamond and tungsten carbide. Teeth are extremely hard and durable, a trait usually desirable because it keeps the teeth healthy, but when they are drilled, a very powerful and sharp drill is needed to move through the teeth as efficiently and cleanly as possible.

Dentists often use a dental bur -- or special drill bit for teeth -- when preparing to apply a filling.
Dentists often use a dental bur -- or special drill bit for teeth -- when preparing to apply a filling.

The angle of the dental bur can be changed for different types of work, as can the blades on the bit. Companies usually offer an extensive lineup, classified by number to make it easy for dentists to identify the products they want. Standardized numbering systems are used in some regions to facilitate the purchasing process, allowing dentists to buy interchangeable products for their drills.

The angle of the dental bur can be changed for different types of work.
The angle of the dental bur can be changed for different types of work.

Both disposable and reusable dental burs are available. A reusable dental bur is intended for multiple uses. After each use, it needs to be cleaned to remove detritus and sterilized so it will be safe for use on another patient. Disposable burs are used once and then discarded. There are a number of advantages to disposable products including the assurance of always working with a sharp drill bit, the reduction of infection risks, and the limitation of sharps injuries caused by coming into contact with the sharp edges of the drill bit while handling and sterilizing it.

Teeth are usually hard and durable, which keeps them healthy.
Teeth are usually hard and durable, which keeps them healthy.

Many dentists have a preferred dental bur brand, based on their experience with different products. Companies often provide samples to allow dentists to try their products, with the goal of enticing established dentists into switching loyalties, or getting new dentists interested in their products. The cost for burs varies. Disposable burs are less costly because they do not need to be designed with reuse in mind, while reusable burs can be more expensive, as they need to be able to withstand multiple uses, high heat associated with sterilization, and harsh chemicals used to remove infectious material.

Patients are typically instructed to rinse their mouths with mouthwash after receiving a filling.
Patients are typically instructed to rinse their mouths with mouthwash after receiving a filling.
Dentists typically learn how to use various tools while in dental school.
Dentists typically learn how to use various tools while in dental school.
A dental bur is a specialized drill bit used in dentistry.
A dental bur is a specialized drill bit used in dentistry.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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