OBJECTIVES: The roughness of intraoral hard surfaces can influence bacterial plague retention. The present review evaluates the initial surface roughness of several intraoral hard materials, as well as changes in this surface roughness as a consequence of different treatment modalities. METHODS: Articles found through Medline searches were included in this review if they met the following criteria: 1) stated threshold surface roughness values and reputed change in surface roughness due to different manipulation techniques; or 2) included standardized surface conditions that could be compared to the treated surface. RESULTS: Recently, some in vivo studies suggested a threshold surface roughness for bacterial retention (Ra = 0.2 micron) below which no further reduction in bacterial accumulation could be expected. An increase in surface roughness above this threshold roughness, however, resulted in a simultaneous increase in plaque accumulation, thereby increasing the risk for both caries and periodontal inflammation. The initial surface roughness of different dental materials (e.g., teeth, abutments, gold, amalgam, acrylic resin, resin composite, glass ionomer or compomer and ceramics) and the effect of different treatment modalities (e.g., polishing, scaling, brushing, condensing, glazing or finishing) on this initial surface roughness were analyzed and compared to the threshold surface roughness of 0.2 micron. The microbiological effects of these treatment modalities, if reported, are also discussed and compared to recent in vivo data. SIGNIFICANCE: Based on this review, the range in surface roughness of different intraoral hard surfaces was found to be wide, and the impact of dental treatments on the surface roughness is material-dependent. Some clinical techniques result in a very smooth surface (compressing of composites against matrices), whereas others made the surface rather rough (application of hand instruments on gold). These findings indicated that every dental material needs its own treatment modality in order to obtain and maintain a surface as smooth as possible.