Restoring a tooth to good form and function requires two steps:
(1) preparing the tooth for placement of restorative material or materials.
(2) placement of these materials. The process of preparation usually involves cutting the tooth with a rotary dental handpiece and dental burrs to make space for the planned restorative materials and to remove any dental decay or portions of the tooth that are structurally unsound. If permanent restoration cannot be carried out immediately after tooth preparation, temporary restoration may be performed.
The prepared tooth, ready for placement of restorative materials, is generally called a tooth preparation. Materials used may be gold, amalgam, dental composites, glass ionomer cement, or porcelain, among others. Preparations may be intracoronal or extracorporeal. Intracoronal preparations are those which serve to hold restorative material within the confines of the structure of the crown of a tooth. Examples include all classes of cavity preparations for composite or amalgam as well as those for gold and porcelain inlays. Intracoronal preparations are also made as female recipients to receive the male components of Removable partial dentures. Extracoronal preparations provide a core or base upon which restorative material will be placed to bring the tooth back into a functional and aesthetic structure. Examples include crowns and onlays, as well as veneers.
In preparing a tooth for a restoration, a number of considerations will determine the type and extent of the preparation. The most important factor to consider is decay. For the most part, the extent of the decay will define the extent of the preparation, and in turn, the subsequent method and appropriate materials for restoration.
Another consideration is unsupported tooth structure. When preparing the tooth to receive a restoration, unsupported enamel is removed to allow for a more predictable restoration. While enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, it is particularly brittle, and unsupported enamel fractures easily.