The large number of new materials such as amalgams and the variety of techniques for finishing and polishing in operative dentistry has stimulated interest in simple, nondestructive methods of surface roughness evaluation. We studied an optical method based on the scattering of reflected coherent light on prepared samples of composite resins submitted to different surface treatments. The method should be able to measure the degree of flatness of the samples, thus enabling a classification procedure according to a figure of merit to be defined. The diffraction properties of such moderately rough surfaces has been correlated with mechanical profilometer measurements of the residual granular structure after polishing. Different surface treatments of composite resins result in distinctive levels of surface flatness, and it is shown that a relation between the intensity of the normalized specular reflection of a beam of coherent light and the rms surface roughness can be established for characterization purposes.