When over half of the tooth’s biting surface is damaged, a dentist will often use an inlay or onlay. The tooth is considered too damaged to support a tooth filling but is not damaged enough that it requires a dental crown. Inlays onlays lie somewhere in the middle. If a tooth is unnecessarily capped with a crown, more of the tooth structure is removed than needed. However, a large dental filling can also weaken the remaining structure of the tooth, causing it to break or crack. Dental inlays and onlays restore large cavities without having to cap the tooth with a crown.
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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. Dental inlays and onlays are the same kind of restoration; however, they cover different portions of a tooth. An inlay, which is similar to a filling, fills the space between the cusp tips, or rounded edges, at the center of the tooth’s surface. An onlay works like an inlay but is a more substantial reconstruction because it covers one or more of the cusps or the entire biting surface of the tooth.
Traditionally, gold has been the material of choice for inlays and onlays but in recent years, porcelain has become increasingly popular due to its durability and color, which more closely matches the natural color of teeth.
How are they applied?
The preparation and installment of a dental inlay and onlay requires two appointments to complete. During the first dental visit, the decaying or damaged area of the tooth or the filling being replaced is removed. Once the tooth is prepared, an impression of the tooth’s structure is taken and sent to a laboratory for fabrication. It may take about a week or so for the inlay or onlay to be created. In order to preserve the tooth during that time, your dentist will apply a temporary sealant on the tooth.
During the second dental visit, the temporary sealant is removed. Your dentist will ensure that the inlay or onlay fits onto the tooth properly and will proceed by cementing it onto the tooth with a strong resin. Your dentist will then polish it to a smooth finish.