The essential goal of any adhesive restoration is to achieve a tight and long-lasting adaptation of the restorative material to enamel and dentin. The key challenge for new dental adhesives is to be simultaneously effective on two dental substrates of conflicting nature. Some barriers must be overcome to accomplish this objective. While bonding to enamel by micromechanical interlocking of resin tags within the array of microporosities in acid-etched enamel can be reliably achieved and can effectively seal the restoration margins against leakage, bonding effectively and durably to organic and humid dentin is the most puzzling task in adhesive dentistry. Much of the research and development of dental adhesives has focused on making the clinical procedure more user-friendly by reducing the number of bottles and/or steps. Although clinicians certainly prefer less complicated and more versatile adhesive materials, there is a trade-off between simplification of dental adhesives and clinical outcomes. Likewise, new materials are launched with claims of being novel and having special properties without much supporting evidence. This review article discusses dental adhesion acknowledging pioneer work in the field, highlights the substrate as a major challenge to obtain durable adhesive restorations, as well as analyzes the three adhesion strategies and their shortcomings. It also reviews the potential of chemical/ionic dental adhesion, discusses the issue of extensively published laboratory research that does not translate to clinical relevance, and leaves a few thoughts in regard to recent research that may have implications for future adhesive materials.
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