Dentists have a huge catalogue of equipment in their clinical arsenal, from the right dental chairs to X-ray equipment, to dental needles and personal protective equipment like gloves and masks.

Perhaps the most renowned (or infamous) dental instrument is the dental drill. The thought of a dental drill is enough to trigger a feeling of dread in many (if not most) people – but understanding the reality of dental drills, and knowing that the experience of visiting the dentist for fillings and other procedures is now much more comfortable than it has ever been, can make visiting the dentist a much less daunting prospect.

The term “dental drill” is something of a misnomer. The instrument is actually a dental handpiece, and dental burs are fitted to the handpiece to suit the specific procedure being undertaken.

What are Dental Burs?

Dental burs are tiny drill pieces that attach to the dentist’s handpiece. They come in a vast range of materials, sizes, and shapes and are primarily used to cut away tooth and bone material to provide the dentist with access for fillings, root canal treatments, and more.

Dentists use burs to safely and easily remove tooth and bone and shape the tooth structure. The right bur material, shape, and size for its purpose enables precise cutting and grinding without snagging and can be used to reduce, smooth, and refine the tooth for everything from fillings to preparation for crown or veneer placement.

Different Types of Dental Burs

Dentists need to use the right dental bur and there is a staggering array of different types of dental burs from which to choose.

Dental burs are ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) classified based on several criteria:

1.     Material Type

2.     Shank

3.     Shape

Also important are

4.     Size

5.     Head Diameter


Bur material is a crucial consideration for durability and cutting quality. In the past, these were crafted from steel, but today they are primarily either:

1.     Diamond – This is the hardest-known material on Earth and ideal for wearing down tooth enamel, which is the hardest tissue in the human body. With a steel shank, the active component (used directly on the teeth) is coated with diamond powder which may be natural or, more commonly, synthetic. (Natural diamond burs are more durable and more expensive than synthetic.) They come in a range of grits from ultra-fine to very coarse and enable faster, smoother cutting with outstanding precision. These burs are very efficient and of high quality, however, their lifespan is shorter than that of carbide. They can easily become clogged with debris and they do wear down quickly with use. They are ideal for use on restorative porcelain material and best suited to polishing.

2.     Carbide – Tungsten carbide is gradually replacing older-style steel burs. It rates highly for efficiency, durability, and strength, and has excellent water resistance. It maintains its sharpness and elicits very little debris build-up and has a much smoother surface than diamond. Unlike diamond burs which grind away tooth and bone material, carbide burs cut and chip into the tooth. This enables them to leave a much cleaner, smoother finish and they can be used on teeth, acrylics, silver, and gold. They are preferred for the removal of metal-based tooth restorations, shaping bone, removing old fillings, and cavity preparation and for trimming/finishing composites.


3.     Steel burs - While being gradually replaced by carbide, these do offer an economical solution for dentine removal and cavity preparation before filling. They are a softer, more flexible, and more chip-and-break-resistant option but they blunt more quickly than carbide burs.


The shank refers to the longer part of the bur piece and they have different ends so they can be attached to different types of handpieces for different speeds of use.

1.     Long straight shanks are used on slow-speed handpieces for surgical procedures and with diamond-cutting discs.

2.     Latch-type shanks also fit in slow-speed handpieces for contra-angle use.

3.     Friction-grip shanks are used with diamond and carbine bur heads and high-speed handpieces.


1.     Round burs are used for creating access points, channels, and undercuts and for cavity preparation. 

2.     Pear-shaped burs are also used in cavity prep and the creation of access points, as well as to spit roots of smaller teeth.

3.     Cross-cut burs have a tapered fissure and are used to reduce the crown height and section teeth with multiple roots.

Finishing Burs come in an array of shapes and sizes and may be diamond or carbide. They also come in white or green stone (used for composite or amalgam). They’re used to finish tooth and soft tissue restorations and enameloplasty (reshaping or recontouring the tooth).


The right dental burs enable dentists to improve their clinical and laboratory work. The best dentists will have a comprehensive selection of dental burs on hand in their clinic at all times.

The best dental supplies manufacturers and distributors will offer a range of these from different brands that dentists know and trust, at different price points.

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