Cosmetic Dentistry Blog Cosmetic and General Dentistry Questions Answered

August 27, 2019

Can a dentist remove composite without damaging the tooth?

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Dr. Hall,
I was wondering if there are any methods to remove all the composite bonding on a front tooth without damaging the existing enamel, eg laser or air abrasion and whether these methods might cause any damage?
Catherine from London, UK
Yes, it is fairly easy to remove composite from a tooth without damaging the tooth, so long is that bonding material is placed on enamel, not the softer dentin of a tooth. I’ll give you three methods that could be used.

  1. Sandpaper disks that a dentist uses for polishing composite are probably the easiest. They have the advantage of leaving a smooth, highly polished surface. Since they are flexible, they bend to accommodate the shape of the tooth.
  2. There are also high-speed carbide drills that are made for polishing. When they are used with light pressure, they are faster than sandpaper disks and still very good at removing composite and not damaging the enamel. However, because of their shape, they tend to leave streaks of material on the tooth. So when I would use these burs, I would finish up with a sandpaper disk to be sure I had it all removed.
  3. And then yes, air abrasion works well here also. However, most dentists don’t have air abrasion equipment in their offices. Little sand-blasting nozzles will also work here. Many cosmetic dentists will have one of these units, which is called a micro-etcher. Again, though, this is a slow method and would be best used as a finishing step, and not for removing the bulk of the material.

When I was in practice, often just before Halloween we would offer to do decorative bonding for patients, creating vampire fangs for patients that would be removed right after Halloween. So we had a lot of experience with this task of removing composite from the surface of enamel. You can read the page I’ve linked here to see a little trick we used to make this removal go quickly.

I will also add that often Lumineers are promoted as being reversible. Since no tooth structure needs to be removed before they are placed, it is argued that they can be removed if you change your mind. This, however, is theory and, for all practical purposes, is a fantasy in my opinion. Lumineers and other brands of porcelain veneers are made out of porcelain, which is very hard. Removing them without damaging the tooth is extremely tricky. My advice to a patient if any dentist tries this pitch on them is to ask them to show you photographs of a case where they removed the Lumineers. I will bet that they won’t be able to. But if you ask an expert cosmetic dentist who is truly good at what they do, my guess is that their experience would be very similar to mine—they have never had an instance where a patient ever wanted a new smile removed—they are so thrilled with their new smile.

– Dr. Hall

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About David A. Hall

Dr. David Hall was one of the first 40 accredited cosmetic dentists in the world. He practiced cosmetic dentistry in Iowa, and in 1990 earned his accreditation with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He is now president of Infinity Dental Web, a company in Mesa, Arizona that does complete Internet marketing for dentists.

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