The purpose of this study was two-fold: (i) to investigate whether the thermal treatment of direct dental resin composites (RCs) using microwave or autoclave heating cycles would modify the materials’ strength as compared to the protocol without heating (control); and (ii) to compare the mechanical performance of direct and indirect RCs. Three RCs (from 3M ESPE) were tested: one indirect (Sinfony); and two direct materials (microhybrid – Filtek Z250; and nanofilled – Filtek Z350). Specimens from the direct RCs were prepared and randomly allocated into three groups according to the thermal treatment (n = 10): Control – no thermal treatment was performed; Microwave – the wet heating was performed using a microwave oven; and Autoclave – the wet heating was performed in an autoclave oven. The indirect RC was prepared following the instructions of the manufacturer. All materials were tested using flexural strength, elastic modulus, work of fracture (W), microhardness, and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) analyses. Data were analyzed with ANOVA and Tukey as well as Weibull analysis (α = 0.05). The thermal treatments tended to produce slight changes in the topography of direct RCs, especially by the autoclave’ wet heating. Overall, the physico-mechanical properties changed after thermal treatment, although this effect was dependent on the type of RC and on the heating protocol. Sinfony showed the lowest modulus and hardness of the study, although it was the most compliant system (higher work of fracture). The load-deflection ability was also greater for the indirect RC. Reliability of the tested materials was similar among each other (p > 0.05). In conclusion, the alternative thermal treatments suggested here may significantly influence some aspects of the mechanical behavior of dental resin composites, with negative effects relying on both the chemical composition of the restorative material as well as on the wet heating protocol used. Clinicians should be aware of the possible effects that additional wet heating of direct resin composites using microwave or autoclave thermal protocols as performed here could have on the overall fracture and mechanical responses during loading circumstances.
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