Inlays and onlays can often be used in place of traditional dental fillings to treat tooth decay or similar structural damage. Similar to a filling but designed to strengthen a tooth, an inlay or onlay can be made of porcelain, gold or composite resin. The material is bonded to the damaged area of the tooth. An inlay is typically adhered inside the cusp tips of the tooth, whereas an onlay is used for more substantial reconstructions. An onlay is designed to extend beyond one or more of the cusps of the tooth.
Traditional dental fillings are usually molded into place within the mouth during a dental visit; inlays and onlays are prefabricated in a dental lab before being fitted and bonded to the damaged tooth by a dentist. Traditionally, gold has been the substance of choice for inlays and onlays because of its strength and durability. However, porcelain has become increasingly popular. Not only is it strong, it offers color options to better match the natural shade of your teeth.
Benefits of Inlays and Onlays
Traditional fillings can decrease the strength of a natural tooth. An inlay or onlay, which is bonded directly onto the tooth, can actually increase its strength. Inlays and onlays will often last between 10 and 30 years. When damage to the tooth is not extensive enough to warrant the application of a crown, an inlay or onlay may offer a good alternative.
Inlay and Onlay Procedures
An inlay or onlay procedure requires two separate dental appointments, one to remove decay/damage and create an impression of the tooth, and one to place the inlay or outlay.
The First Dental Visit
During the first appointment, the damaged or decaying portion of the tooth is removed, and the remainder of the tooth is prepared for the inlay or onlay. To ensure proper fit and an aligned bite, an impression of the tooth is made and then sent to a lab, where it will be used to fabricate the inlay or outlay. The dentist will apply a temporary sealant to protect the tooth until the next visit.
The Second Dental Visit
At the second appointment, the temporary sealant is removed. The dentist will check the inlay or onlay for correct fit. If the fit is ideal, the inlay or onlay is then bonded to the tooth with a strong resin, and polished to a smooth finish.
Results of Inlays and Onlays
Inlays and onlays are a strong and stable option for minimal tooth reconstruction or filling. Regular brushing and flossing, as well as regular dental checkups, should be continued after the procedure is complete.