Inlays and Onlays
Most patients have heard of getting fillings or crowns to fill in cavities or cover teeth damaged by decay, but dental inlays and onlays are often a new concept for patients. Typically, fillings are used to fill small cavities and crowns are used to cover a tooth when the decay is deeper or there is a tooth fracture. In certain situations, however, a filling is not quite enough and a crown is too much to protect against dental decay. That’s where dental inlays and onlays come in. They can provide what is “just right” to fill in the gaps when a filling won’t cut it and a crown is overkill. The expert team at Weissman Dental can help you determine which restorative treatment is best for your unique needs.
What Is the Difference Between an Inlay and an Onlay?
Inlays are designed from an imprint of the decayed area and are manufactured in a lab. They fill in hollows and cavities in the chewing surfaces of teeth, but they don’t affect the cusps. The material used for inlays can be porcelain or a composite resin, both of which are stronger than the materials for traditional fillings. While this makes inlays more expensive, their value pays off in longevity. We will recommend an inlay when a filling won’t sufficiently strengthen the tooth structure and the cavity needs the most durable material available to fortify the tooth.
In contrast, onlays are used for decay or damage that affects the cusps of a tooth, as well as the chewing surface. We will recommend an onlay when a cavity is too large to fill with traditional amalgam fillings or when there is a high risk of the tooth cracking due to weakness. We prepare a tooth for an onlay in a similar way to preparing for a filling - by drilling or using a laser to clean the cavity. Then, we will place a temporary onlay over the cavity while the permanent onlay is manufactured in the lab. While a crown typically requires that some of the healthy tooth structure be removed to make room for the crown, the tooth structure is preserved when preparing for an onlay, which is also called a “partial crown”. Essentially, inlays and onlays cover different areas of a tooth and differ in magnitude, very similar to the differences between fillings and crowns.
How Long Do Inlays and Onlays Last?
One of the biggest benefits of inlays and onlays are their superior durability and longevity. However, there is no firm figure for the lifespan of your inlay or onlay because it will be highly dependent on your personal oral hygiene and your commitment to routine cleanings in our office. You can expect an inlay or onlay to last up to 30 years with excellent oral care habits. The fact is that some inlays and onlays will experience more wear and tear than others, especially if you clench your jaw and/or grind your teeth. If this is the case, however, we can create a custom-fitted mouthguard to protect your teeth while you sleep. Also, just as with your natural teeth, eating extremely hard or chewy foods can crack an inlay or onlay or cause their bonds to loosen.
If you believe you have tooth decay and need a tooth restored to its original function, Weissman Dental is here to help you determine the best approach to treatment. To have your questions answered or to schedule an appointment, please call our office at (503) 274-2222.