Oxygen is known to inhibit vinyl polymerization in resins used for restorative dentistry. This research examined the effects of unfilled resin being blown into a thin layer on etched bovine enamel in atmospheres of room air, argon, or a combination of the two. Onto this thin, cured resin surface, filled resin was added and cured under atmospheric conditions similar to those of the initial polymerization of the unfilled resin. Comparison of the effects of the different testing atmospheres was made by measurement of the shear bond strength of the resin/composite disc to the etched bovine enamel. Monomer conversion values of the unfilled resin were calculated from the infrared spectra of the simulated tooth/disc assembly. Blowing unfilled resin with compressed room air prior to curing caused poor monomer conversion values and resulted in low shear bond strength to etched enamel. Both high monomer conversion and shear strength values resulted when specimens were cured under all-argon conditions. A clinically practical method of maintenance of the tooth under a continuous stream of argon while being cured in room air was shown to provide greater monomer conversion than curing under room-air conditions alone. SEM evaluation showed that the inhibited layer present in room-air curing was both physically displaced by and absorbed into the overlying filled composite. Specimens cured in argon showed an intact, uniformly thick layer of bonding resin next to the etched enamel, with no displacement by or absorption into the composite addition. Unfilled resin cured in room air had a significantly greater thickness of polymerization-inhibited material than did resin cured in an argon atmosphere.
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