Dental Inlays and Onlays
Dental Inlays and Onlays
There is some confusion about what dental inlays and onlays are and what dental problems they are used to correct. Inlays and onlays derive their names from the location on the tooth where they are used. At our practice, we utilize inlays and onlays as alternatives to more aggressive crowns and as methods for restoring normal tooth structure after decay or other damage.
Sometimes inlays and onlays are known as “indirect fillings” because unlike standard amalgam or resin fillings that are mixed and placed in our office, inlays and onlays are fabricated in a dental laboratory and cemented or bonded onto the tooth in our office. We like using these options for restorations because, unlike standard fillings, inlays and onlays do not weaken the tooth structure but actually strengthen it, in most cases adding between 50 to 75 percent more chewing force.
To differentiate between the two, you simply need to note their location. Inlays are placed within the cusp tips of the tooth; onlays usually cover the entire chewing surface including one or more tooth cusps. We use mainly porcelain at our practice, but can also use gold if the patient prefers.
What is a dental inlay?
You can think of an inlay as an alternative to a typical filling. A dental inlay can also fix an existing tooth that is too damaged to support a tooth filling, but not damaged enough to merit a dental crown. By definition an inlay must be placed in the chewing surface between the cusps.
A dental inlay made of porcelain or gold is more durable than a typical filling made of amalgam or composite resin. Plus, in cases of large amounts of decay they are a less expensive option than a crown, and we can keep more of the natural tooth.
An inlay is an “indirect dental restoration,” meaning that we make a mold once your tooth is prepared and send it to a dental lab for fabrication. We then place the finished inlay in our office.
What is a dental onlay?
Dental onlays involve restoration of more extensive damage, usually involving not only the chewing surface but one or more of the tooth cusps as well. This extends to the outside of the tooth. Because of this extensive coverage, dental onlays are sometimes called “partial crowns,” but they really aren’t the same.
A dental onlay falls in between a large filling and a crown. We like them because they enable us to save the tooth, actually strengthening it, without having to resort to a full crown that covers the entire tooth.
Like inlays, onlays are made of porcelain or gold and if cared for properly, can last up to 30 years. Like our inlays, Dr. Gill and Dr. Kenson utilize a dental lab to create our onlays to the exacting quality and specifications we demand. This ensures long-lasting function for our patients.
How inlays and onlays are placed
Whether you need an inlay or an onlay (remember, the difference is if the damage encompasses one of the cusps or not), the procedure is the same. It takes two visits with Dr. Gill or Dr. Kenson.
During your first visit we prepare the tooth. First, we remove the decayed portion of the tooth. Then we take an impression of the tooth’s structure, along with photos of the tooth. These are then sent to the dental lab to use when creating your inlay or onlay. The photos allow the lab to accurately match your natural tooth color. Our lab usually takes around two weeks to create your restoration; in the meantime we place a temporary restoration onto your tooth so that you can chew safely and comfortably.
When your inlay or onlay arrives at our office, you return for your second appointment. We first remove the temporary filling and thoroughly clean the tooth. Then we check the fit and color of your inlay/onlay. Once satisfied, we cement it permanently onto your tooth.
How are inlays superior to metal fillings?
Porcelain inlays have many advantages over traditional amalgam fillings:
- Inlays don’t require that we remove as much of the healthy natural tooth as is necessary when placing a typical filling.
- Inlays actually strengthen your tooth in most cases, whereas metal fillings weaken the tooth.
- Inlays don’t contract and expand with hot and cold foods (amalgam fillings do), so they do not crack your teeth over time.
- Porcelain inlays cannot be detected in your tooth; they look natural.
- Inlays are more durable than amalgam or resin fillings.
- Inlays can replace more decay without weakening the tooth, whereas overly large fillings seriously weaken a tooth.
Are onlays an alternative to crowns?
We use dental onlays in lieu of crowns whenever possible. Onlays provide the same benefits over amalgam fillings as inlays. A crown covers the entire tooth and requires that we remove a portion of the healthy tooth to make room for it. With an onlay, we can save more of the healthy tooth.
Do I care for inlays/onlays any differently than normal fillings or my natural teeth?
Inlays and onlays require the same home hygiene that you normally practice — brushing twice a day and flossing. In comparison to a crown, an onlay doesn’t demand special attention.