Dental inlays and onlays are a type of dental restorations that is not used as frequently as other types of treatments such as fillings or crowns. Inlays and onlays are a great treatment option for teeth that have an area of need too large for a filling, but don’t quite need a dental crown.
Inlays and onlays fit directly into the tooth and can restore up to 3/4 of the tooth crown, which is much more than a normal dental filling can. Each inlay or onlay is custom fabricated in a dental laboratory similar to a crown. After the initial preparation of the tooth that removes the diseased enamel is performed, an impression will be taken of the prepared tooth. This impression is sent to the dental laboratory and a temporary filling material is placed in the tooth in the meantime. Within about 2 weeks the permanent restoration is complete and is then cemented into the tooth.
What makes dental inlays and onlays unique is that they help maintain as much natural tooth structure as possible without immediately going forward with a full crown on the tooth. This can in the long run help extend the full life of the tooth and delay more progressive treatments that come along as dental restorations wear out. Inlays and onlays are typically more expensive than traditional fillings and do require an additional dental appointment, but they are more affordable than porcelain crowns.
The material chosen for inlays and onlays can be made of porcelain to match the tooth surface or also made of gold, which is known for exceptional wearing capabilities on the back teeth.
Dental inlays and onlays are useful in areas that are too large to be restored with a filling, but a crown isn’t necessary. Similar to a dental crown, inlays and onlays are fabricated in a dental laboratory to fit an individually treated tooth. The porcelain restoration covers just a portion of the tooth, rather than the entire crown. Inlays and onlays are useful in replacing large fillings, or in areas where a tooth colored filling will not be adequate. The material is custom matched to blend in naturally with the surrounding tooth enamel.
Inlays and onlays can also be made of cast gold, which is very durable to wear over time. When placed in areas such as the upper back molars, the gold restorations are not even visible during talking, laughing or smiling. However, due to aesthetic reasons many people prefer porcelain restorations opposed to their gold counterparts.
Many people choose to have their old silver fillings removed, for more cosmetic, mercury free options. Because silver fillings are larger and require more tooth preparation, they are sometimes difficult to replace with a tooth colored filling. Porcelain inlays and onlays are one of the standards of care in replacing large fillings, because they are structurally sound and only take up one third to two thirds of the tooth structure.
If you are considering having your old fillings replaced, or have fillings that are sensitive and need to be re-treated, dental inlays or onlays may be a treatment option available to you. By using this method of therapy, more natural tooth structure is maintained and less tooth preparation is needed than with treatments such as dental crowns.
There are a range of different types of restorations for restoring damaged or decayed teeth. These include fillings, inlays, onlays, and crowns. Which type of restoration is best depends on the extent of the damage, the health of the remaining tooth, and the chewing load the tooth is expected to bear.
Dental fillings are referred to as direct restorations because they are formed and placed by the dentist in the office during a single visit. Crowns, inlays, and onlays are called indirect restorations because they are made in a dental laboratory and require at least two visits to the dentist’s office. During the first visit the tooth will be prepared and a mold will be made and sent to the lab. During the second visit the dentist will cement the restoration in place.
Fillings are the restoration used for the most minor damage. The dentist removes the decay from the tooth and fills the cavity with amalgam (silver color) or composite (tooth colored) filling material. Fillings are only effective when there is sufficient healthy tooth to support the filling. A filling that is too large will leave the tooth weak which could cause it to break or crack.
For much more extensive damage to the tooth, the dentist removes the decay and damaged material and will also remove enough additional tooth material to allow a crown to be placed over the tooth. A crown (also called a cap) is made in a dental laboratory and cemented in place by your dentist. The crown completely encircles or “caps” the tooth and provides a strong restoration for a seriously damaged tooth.
Dental inlays and onlays are used to repair damage that is too much for a filling, but not enough for a crown. Inlays and onlays are indirect restorations similar to crowns, but cover less area of the tooth. An inlay fits in between the cusps or rounded edges of the tooth while an onlay covers one or more of the cusps or even the entire biting surface.
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