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  • Writer's pictureJack Nunnink

The Ultimate Guide to Dental Burs

Dental burs form an essential part of dental treatments and are used for a range of dental procedures daily. Our guide will give you an in-depth understanding of the multiple types of dental burs, how they are classified according to ISO standards, the general composition of materials and types, and their various uses in a dental setting.

How Do We Classify Model Types?


Because of the different combinations of materials, sizes, blade types, etc, it is possible to have countless models of dental burs. Fortunately, the international dental institutions standardised model categorisation in the 1980s, creating a standard nomenclature and classification methodology. These now belong under ADA specifications No. 23 and follow ISO standards.

Today, there are approximately 5,000 different types of burs, each with a standardised ISO code. This makes it far easier for dental practices to identify and purchase the necessary products for everyday procedures.

The Basics: What Are Dental Burs?


Dental burs are small rotary instruments used to cut through hard tissue (e.g. bone or tooth enamel) and are commonly used in everyday general dentistry. There are various types; models range in shape, size, and blade type, in addition to other features.


The Anatomy of the Dental Bur


Dental burs consist of three distinct parts:

● The head contains the rotating blade used to cut through tissue.

● The neck follows from the head.

● The shank attaches to dental handpieces, using different ends depending on the model.


But that’s just the start. In order to categorise the various models, of which there are many, ISO coding takes the following parameters into account:


Materials used for the model’s head. The first dental burs were made of steel, however, there are now three (3) primary types: diamond, tungsten and carbide.


Tungsten carbide is effectively the natural replacement of steel equivalents. This material offers 3x the rigidity of steel, while also retaining efficiency. The material is fantastic for long-term daily use, as it is durable and wear-resistant.


Diamond’s function goes beyond being a pretty rock on a finger; it is also the hardest known material on the planet. When a dentist needs to cut through hard tissue (tooth enamel), diamond burs are the product of choice. There are two types of diamond burs; natural and synthetic. The latter is more durable and offers greater overall quality, but it is also far more expensive.


Of course, steel burs are still on the market. They are flexible and have great edge retention, continuing to be the value option. Steel burs are particularly useful for dentin removal, for example. Compared to tungsten carbide, steel can corrode, will chip more easily, and will generally blunt far more quickly.


The shape of the dental bur’s head. The names of the shapes are somewhat recognisable to the uninitiated, as they resemble commonly found objects. Here are some of the most common examples:


Ball burs. This is the shape that is most associated with dental burs, as it is the most frequently used. Ball shapes are used for cavities, creating retention, or facilitating prosthetic placement.

Conical burs are used for inlay prepping, chamfering, and counter-chamfering, amongst a range of other uses.

Cylindrical burs come in several models, including round and flat-tipped varieties.

Flame burs are ideal for delicate procedures, including defining the proximal wall in surgery procedures.


Compatibility with specific handpiece types. Turbine dental burs offer sheer speed, which gives them their second common name: high rotation or high-speed burs. You also have contra-angle dental burs, which are low-speed dental tools. Finally, you also have handpiece burs available on the market.



Diameter of the burs’ head at its widest point. This one is the easiest to come to grips with, as it’s simply a measurement of the diameter of the bur. Of course, this would have to be the measurement of the active part. As expected, smaller diameter burs are used for detailed dental work. When it comes to surgical procedures, however, a wider type is necessary.


The grain size or roughness of the burs is also known as the grit size. This gives the user an indication of the ability of the burs to erode the tooth. The neck will usually have a coloured ring, which denotes the roughness of the grain. These colours are standardised according to ISO standards. There are many different options, but the most common include white (superfine), yellow (extra fine), red (fine), blue (standard), green (coarse) and black (super coarse).


The coarser grits are primarily used to remove extra material, for instance in situations where the dentist is cleaning caries. When it comes to polishing or ‘finishing’ work, the dentist will employ a finer grain.

Other Uses for Dental Burs


Dental burs go beyond the common daily procedures that occur at your average dentist’s office.

For example, there are burs that are used in a laboratory setting specifically for dental use. These can include cutting and modelling prosthetics, plaster models and other items made from acrylic materials.


Further, you can also find maxillofacial surgery burs, which require specific design specifications for bone cutting, sinus lifts and implantology. Endodontic burs are used for canal prepping and endodontic cavity opening.


Single-Use Dental Burs


There is an increasing demand for dental burs designed for single use; products without the need for cleaning and sterilisation for the next patient. There are several clear benefits to choosing single-use products:

Hygiene. Even optimised cleaning and sterilisation techniques are not always perfect. Sometimes, bacteria can survive extreme temperatures and pressure that autoclaves put the burs through during the cleaning process. Single-use products are particularly useful when working with immunocompromised patients, as otherwise, most people can withstand the effects of mild contaminations without any consequences.

Product efficiency is no longer an issue, as single-use burs will offer the same level of performance. Burs made for multiple uses will degrade over time, reducing the efficiency of the product.

Cost. Affordable single-use dental burs are becoming increasingly common, meaning dentists can lower costs when it comes to product cleaning and sterilisation.

This guide has given you a comprehensive overview of dental burs, but considering there are thousands of distinct model types, it is not possible to cover them all in detail. However, should you need to purchase a range of products for your dental practice, this guide will certainly come in handy!

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