Aim Advances of composite systems and their application have revolutionised the management of posterior teeth affected by caries, facilitating a minimally invasive approach. Previous surveys have indicated that the teaching of posterior composites within dental schools was developing, albeit not keeping pace with clinical evidence and the development of increasingly predictable techniques and materials. Concurrently, surveys of dental practice indicate that dental amalgam still predominates as the 'material of choice' for the restoration of posterior teeth within UK general dental practice. In light of such considerations, the aim of this study was to investigate current teaching of posterior composites in Irish and UK dental schools. Methods An online questionnaire which sought information in relation to the current teaching of posterior composites was developed and distributed to the 17 established Irish and UK dental schools with undergraduate teaching programmes in late 2009. Results Completed responses were received from all 17 schools (response rate = 100%). All 17 schools taught the placement of occlusal and two-surface occlusoproximal composites in premolar and permanent molar teeth. Two schools did not teach placement of three-surface occlusoproximal composites in either premolars or molars. In their preclinical courses, ten schools taught posterior composites before teaching dental amalgams. Fifty-five percent of posterior restorations placed by dental students were of composite (range = 10-90%) and 44% amalgam (range = 10-90%), indicating an increase of 180% in the numbers of posterior composites placed over the past five years. Diversity was noted in the teaching of clinical techniques and students at different schools are trained with different composites and bonding systems. Some cause for concern was noted in the teaching of certain techniques that were not in keeping with existing best evidence, such as the teaching of transparent matrix bands and light-transmitting wedges for occluso-proximal composites (eight schools) and the teaching of bevels on the cavosurface enamel margins of both the occlusal and proximal box margins (three schools). Conclusion The teaching of posterior composites in the Irish and UK dental schools has substantially increased over the last five years. Dental students in these schools often gain more experience in the placement of posterior composites than amalgam. However, practice trends indicate that a majority of GDPs continue to place amalgam in preference to composite, thereby suggesting a source of tension as current dental students emerge into the dental workforce over the coming years. There is, as a consequence, a challenge to the dental profession and its funding agencies in the UK to encourage more of a shift towards the minimally interventive use of composite systems in the restoration of posterior teeth, in particular among established practitioners.