Dental Inlays and Onlays: What to Know

You’re likely familiar with fillings, crowns and veneers as applications used to help reinforce weak teeth or provide aesthetic or structural support. To fill in the gaps of this knowledge, we’re going to take a look at a couple of other common tools your dentist uses to repair teeth: dental inlays and onlays.

What are dental inlays and onlays?

Dental inlays and onlays are types of repairs that fit to a damaged tooth to restore the surface. Both can be used for many types of restoration, including cavities and tooth decay, but dental inlays and onlays are particularly helpful where more chewing power is needed. They are less invasive than a direct filling and less expensive than a crown, making them a popular choice for dentists and patients.

Both inlays and onlays have specific applications for tooth restoration. Let’s take a look at the difference between dental inlays and onlays.

Dental Inlays

Dental inlays and onlays differ in the areas of the tooth they are meant to cover. If the repair is only necessary within the cusps of the tooth, an inlay is used to seal over the area. 

In the past, inlays were made using gold, but dentists have found ceramics to be a more reliable and inconspicuous alternative. Porcelain inlays are more durable than silver or gold fillings and blend in with the natural color of your teeth.

Dental Onlays

If the damage to the tooth goes beyond the middle of the tooth, extending to one or more cusps, an onlay is used. Onlays are constructed to go on the outer edges of the chewing surface of the tooth, repairing damage and sealing it against further decay.

Dental overlays are a kind of hybrid between an inlay and an onlay. An overlay is used for special repairs that require reinforcement between the cusps of the teeth as well as the top surface, but aren’t extreme enough to warrant the use of a crown or other type of structural repair.

Uses and Application of Dental Inlays and Onlays

Dental inlays and onlays are commonly used to repair mild tooth decay, falling in between a filling and a crown in terms of the amount of restoration needed. They are especially ideal for use on rear teeth that need to be made stronger to withstand daily chewing wear.

Inlays and onlays are also used to repair broken teeth or teeth that suffer from repeated fracturing. This essential structural support saves the tooth so it doesn’t have to be removed and replaced.

Before applying a dental inlay or onlay, your dentist will first need to remove dangerous decay. This is to prevent the damage from spreading further into the tooth. Then, your dentist will take detailed measurements of the affected area using an accurate dental camera. The inlay or onlay is built externally, as opposed to being applied in layers directly to the tooth. 

Once fully constructed, the repairing piece is attached to the affected area and cemented on. Inlays and onlays are useful because they allow more of the natural tooth to remain, as opposed to other methods that require further removal of tooth before the repair can be applied.

Advantages of Dental Inlays and Onlays

Similar to crowns, inlays and onlays can be developed using a CEREC machine. This means they can be made and placed within one dental visit, with no uncomfortable 3D impressions required. If you’ve avoided having a painful cavity addressed, a dental inlay or onlay could give you the relief you need without the drilling or filling you don’t want.

This type of repair also has the advantage of being more affordable than a crown. Because a crown requires significant rebuilding of the damaged tooth, the cost of developing and applying it is proportionally higher.

Dental inlays and onlays can improve tooth function and act as an effective barrier against further decay. They also strengthen weakened teeth and are more aesthetically appropriate than a silver or gold filling.

Think a dental inlay or onlay is right for you? Let us know! Call our office at 231-737-5500 or schedule your appointment with Dr. Mogren online today.

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