Oper Dent. 2022 Aug 2. doi: 10.2341/21-084-L. Online ahead of print.
Despite their popularity, the use of bulk-fill composites remains controversial, both in terms of their properties and their in-depth development. The objectives of the present work were (1) to provide a more comprehensive evaluation of the quality of cure in depth of commercially available bulk-fill composites by combining various key mechanical and biological characterization methods, (2) to evaluate the inter-material differences when optimally cured, and (3) to evaluate the efficiency of an antioxidant-N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC)-to restrain the adverse effects of the leached components on cell viability. Nine bulk-fill composites (including flowable and high-viscosity materials) were investigated and compared to two conventional resin-based composites, one flowable and one high-viscosity restorative material. The materials were injected or packed into Teflon molds of various configurations, up to 6 mm material thickness. They were then light-cured from the top for 20 seconds with Bluephase G2 (Ivoclar Vivadent, irradiance = 1050 mW/cm2). The following physicomechanical properties were measured for the upper (0-2 mm), intermediate (2-4 mm), and lower (4-6 mm) layers: degree of conversion using Raman Spectrometry (DC, in %), microhardness using a Vickers micro-indenter before (VHN dry) and after 24 hours of storage in ethanol (VHN EtOH), and flexural strength (in MPa) and flexural modulus (in GPa) using a three-point bend test. Each composite layer and an uncured layer were also stored for one week in a standard cell growth medium to generate conditioned media. Human dental pulp cells were then cultured for 24 hours with the latter and cell viability was measured using an MTS assay. A similar experiment was repeated with conditioned media produced in contact with uncured composites, with and without the addition of 4 mM NAC. The data were subjected to a Shapiro-Wilk test, then one-way ANOVA or Kruskal-Wallis test, followed either by Tukey’s test (inter-material comparison) or by Dunnett’s or Dunn’s test (comparison between layers relative to the upper one). The level of statistical significance was set at 0.05. Some materials (EverX, X-traF, VenusBF, X-traB) did not show any significant differences (p>0.05) for any of the properties considered between the intermediate layers compared to the upper one (considered as reference). Others displayed significant differences, at least for some properties, highlighting the value of combining various key mechanical and biological characterization methods when investigating the quality of cure in depth. Significant inter-material differences (p<0.05) were observed when comparing the properties of their upper layer, considered as “optimally” polymerized. Hence, one needs to consider the absolute property values, not only their relative evolution concerning layer thickness. Finally, the use of NAC appeared as beneficial to reduce the risk of harmful effects to dental pulp cells, especially in case of excessive thickness use, and may therefore be of potential interest as an additive to composites in the future.