inlays and onlays

Think you know all there is to know about the types of dental restorations you might need? Think again.

Most people have heard about fillings and crowns. You may know about dental implants too. However, there are two great options that don’t often get the recognition they deserve: dental inlays and onlays.

Here’s a guide to these two dental restoration options and what you can expect.

What Are Dental Inlays?

When you have a dental cavity, or decay in your tooth, your dentist needs to remove the decay and then fill in the lost part of the tooth. In many cases, we can do this with a filling by placing a moldable material into the cavity in the tooth and hardening it in place.

In some cases, though, your cavity may be too big for a typical filling to handle. In these cases, we use an inlay instead.

An inlay is similar to a filling because it fills in a decayed part of your tooth. The difference is that with an inlay, we form the full hardened piece in a lab. Then we place the inlay into the tooth and use cement or resin to keep it permanently in place.

In their earlier days, inlays were made from gold. Today, though, most are made with a tooth-colored material for a more natural and discreet look.

What Is a Dental Onlay?

Dental cavities can form in different ways. Somethings it starts small and bores down into the tooth in a column or a tiny cone. Other times, you can have decay across most of the top surface of the tooth.

In those cases, a filling or inlay won’t work. You don’t have enough healthy tooth tissue on the sides of the cavity to support an inlay or a filling.

When this happens, the best option is often an onlay.

An onlay uses the same process as an inlay: we form the piece in a lab and place it into the tooth. Unlike an inlay, which goes into the tooth, an onlay both goes into the cavity and forms a new top to the tooth.

This may sound similar to a dental crown, but there is an important difference. A crown goes all the way around your tooth: the top and all four sides. An inlay only covers one surface.

How Do I Know What Type of Dental Repair I Need?

Every dental repair is unique to the person receiving it. While one option may sound more appealing than another, you ultimately need to rely on your dental professional for guidance.

During an exam, your dentist will examine and identify any tooth decay you may have. Depending on the size of your cavity and where it is in your tooth, the dentist will be able to recommend a treatment option.

In general, though, there is a basic spectrum for dental repairs.

The smallest cavities can be repaired with fillings. The next step up for larger cavities is an inlay, followed by an onlay, a crown, and finally a full dental implant or a partial denture.

What Is the Process for Getting a Dental Inlay or Onlay?

Let’s assume you’ve visited your dentist and they’ve told you that you need either a dental inlay or onlay. What can you expect from the procedure?

The First Visit

The first step in the treatment is to numb the area around the tooth and get rid of the decay. Despite its name, dental decay is actually more like an infection. If the dentist doesn’t remove all of it before repairing the tooth, it will continue to degrade your tooth under the restoration and can cause more serious problems.

At this point, your dentist needs to get a detailed image or mold of the decay-free tooth so that the inlay or onlay will fit. We may do this using digital scans or a physical mold that we press onto the tooth to make an indent.

We will send those images to a dental lab where they will create the custom inlay or onlay for your tooth. This will take time, though, which is why inlays and onlays require two visits to our office.

To finish your first visit, we will place a temporary filling or temporary crown on your tooth. This prevents damage to your tooth while we wait for the inlay or onlay to arrive.

The Second Visit

When your inlay or onlay is ready, we will schedule your second visit. You will come in and we will begin by removing the temporary filling or crown.

Next, we will check the inlay or onlay to make sure it fits seamlessly into your tooth.

If it does, we will use either dental cement or a specialized resin to permanently secure the inlay or onlay in place. Then you’ll be on your way with a newly repaired and durable smile.

How Do I Care for Inlays and Onlays?

After receiving your inlay or onlay, you want to keep it in the best possible shape so it lasts a long time.

The good news is that all you need to do is follow a standard healthy dental care routine. If you brush your teeth twice per day and floss once per day, you can expect to enjoy your inlay or onlay for years.

However, it’s also important to maintain a regular schedule with your dentist. Visiting every six months will allow us to help you avoid new decay and to make sure your restoration is holding up the way it should.

Getting Back Your Smile

Your teeth may be small compared to the rest of your body, but between physical pain and cosmetic changes, dental problems can have a major impact on your daily life. Depending on your needs, dental inlays and onlays can help you get back the smile and comfort you miss.

To find out if inlays or onlays can help you, call our dental office to set up your appointment.

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