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Inlays & Onlays

When more than half of the tooth’s biting surface is damaged, a dentist will often use an inlay or onlay. On a restoration spectrum between a filling and a crown, these are somewhere in the middle, preserving more of the tooth’s natural structure than a crown but covering more area than a filling would.

What Are Inlays and Onlays?

Inlays and onlays can be made of porcelain, gold, or composite resin. These pieces are bonded to the damaged area of the tooth. An inlay, which is similar to a filling, is used inside the cusp tips of the tooth. An onlay is a more substantial reconstruction, similar to the inlay but extending out over one or more of the cusps of the tooth.

Traditionally, gold has been the material of choice for inlays and onlays. In recent years, however, porcelain has become increasingly popular due to its strength and color, which can potentially match the natural color of your teeth.

How Are Inlays and Onlays Applied?

Inlays and onlays require two appointments to complete the procedure. During the first visit, the filling being replaced or the damaged or decaying area of the tooth is removed, and the tooth is prepared for the inlay or onlay. To ensure proper fit and bite, an impression of the tooth is made by the dentist, and sent to a lab for fabrication. The dentist will then apply a temporary sealant on the tooth and schedule the next appointment.

At the second appointment, the temporary sealant is removed. Drs. Quang Le or Vinh Le will then make sure that the inlay or onlay fits correctly. If the fit is satisfactory, the inlay or onlay will be bonded to the tooth with a strong resin and polished to a smooth finish.

Considerations for Inlays and Onlays

Traditional fillings can reduce the strength of a natural tooth by up to 50 percent. As an alternative, inlays and onlays, which are bonded directly onto the tooth using special high-strength resins, can actually increase the strength of a tooth by up to 75 percent. As a result, they can last from 10 to 30 years. In some cases, where the damage to the tooth is not extensive enough to merit an entire crown, onlays can provide a very good alternative.

Advantages of Inlays and Onlays

There are many advantages to inlays and onlays that patients can’t get with basic crowns, particularly long-term ones. A few of the benefits you can expect include:

  • Stronger protection: compared to fillings, they offer stronger protection for the treated tooth
  • Better color matching: inlays and onlays come in a larger array of colors than fillings, making it easier to get a close match to the unique color of the tooth.
  • Durability: with regular checkups and proper care, they can last longer than traditional fillings while being less likely to cause tooth sensitivity, especially in cases where the damage is very close to the pulp chamber and the nerves it contains.

To get all of these great benefits, there are a couple of caveats. Inlays and onlays tend to be more expensive than traditional fillings due to the advanced equipment required to fabricate them. And unlike fillings which can be done in a single dental visit, they require multiple visits so that the restoration can be custom made to each tooth at a dental lab before being bonded to your teeth at the dentist’s office.