OBJECTIVES Dentinal repair following cavity restoration is dependent on several parameters including the numbers of surviving odontoblasts. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of cavity cutting and restoration treatments on post-operative odontoblast numbers. METHODS 353 Standardised non-exposed rectangular Class V cavities, were cut into the buccal dentin of intact 1st or 2nd premolar teeth of 165 patients, aged between nine and 25 years of age. Composite cavity restorations with various etching treatments were compared with resin-modified glass ionomer cements, enamel bonding resins, as well as polycarboxylate, calcium hydroxide, and zinc oxide eugenol materials. Following tooth extraction (20-381 days) for orthodontic reasons, the area of the reactionary dentine and the area of the odontoblasts was measured histomorphometrically. RESULTS Odontoblast numbers and dentine repair activity were found to be influenced more by cavity restoration variables, than the choice of cavity filling materials or patient factors. The most important cavity preparation variable was the cavity remaining dentine thickness (RDT); below 0.25mm the numbers of odontoblasts decreased by 23%, and minimal reactionary dentine repair was observed. CONCLUSIONS Odontoblast injury increased as the cavity RDT decreased. In rank order of maintaining odontoblast numbers beneath restored cavities with a RDT below 0.5mm, and using calcium hydroxide for comparison; calcium hydroxide (100%), polycarboxylate (82.4%), zinc oxide eugenol (81.3%), composite (75.5%), enamel bonding resin (49.5%) and RMGIC (42.8%). The vitality and dentine repair capacity of the pulp is dependent on odontoblast survival. Variations in the extent of odontoblast injury caused during operative procedures, may be the major underlying reason for the success or failure of restorative treatments.