What Are Porcelain Inlays and Onlays?

When most people think of the conventional ways to take care of a decayed tooth, particularly in the back of the mouth, they either think of traditional fillings or a dental crown as being the only available treatment options. Fortunately, this is not the case. Porcelain inlays and onlays offer an alternative solution for repairing teeth that are suffering from mild to moderate levels of tooth decay. This means that they are usually the ideal way to repair a tooth that is suffering from decay that is worse than what a filling is typically used for, but not severely decayed enough to need a full dental crown. The fact that inlays and onlays offer a conservative alternative to full crowns is one of their major benefits.

However, they are not procedures performed by all dentists, so it is important that you make sure you choose a dentist who does them on a regular basis. Also known as indirect fillings, inlays and onlays offer a well-fitting, stronger, longer lasting repair for tooth decay or teeth with fractured cusps.

They are also beneficial from both an aesthetic and functional point of view. Whereas dental fillings are molded into place within the mouth during a dental visit, inlays and onlays are custom made indirectly in a dental lab before being fitted and bonded to a damaged tooth. The restoration is referred to as an “Inlay” when the material is bonded only within the center of a tooth or just a single cusp (point) of the tooth. Alternatively, the restoration is called an “Onlay” when the extent of the damage goes beyond just the center of the tooth to also include more than one cusp of the tooth or full coverage of the biting surface.

Inlays and Onlays: The Procedure

Typically, an Inlay or Onlay is a two part procedure that only requires two visits to your dentist. During your first visit, the damaged tooth is prepped and a molded impression of the tooth is then taken and sent off to your dentist’s dental laboratory, where the porcelain inlay or onlay will be custom made to match the color and shape of your surrounding teeth. Also during the first visit, your dentist will place a fitted, provisional inlay or onlay, known as a temporary or “temp” for short, in the shape of the final restoration that will help protect the tooth while the final restoration is being fabricated. During the second visit, usually 1-2 weeks later, the temporary is removed and your inlay or onlay is placed. Inlays and onlays are extremely stable restorations that seldom fail. Your dentist will check all margins and surfaces to ensure a smooth fit with all neighboring teeth to ensure a smooth fit, as well as check your bite to ensure that there are no occlusion-related problems. Once fitted, the inlay or onlay is bonded onto the tooth and polished, making it almost indistinguishable from neighboring natural teeth to the naked eye.

Benefits of Choosing an Inlay or Onlay

Inlays and onlays offer a conservative preparation that preserves as much of the existing healthy tooth structure as possible. They are a great choice if you have minimal to moderate tooth decay that extends into a flossing area, offering an excellent alternative to full coverage crowns that still allows for maximum functional longevity of the damaged tooth. Another added benefit is that inlays and onlays do not discolor over time, as is the case with resin fillings. The precise and custom fit of porcelain inlays and onlays also ensures easier tooth cleaning and maintenance when compared to a crown or bridge. If you have a cavity between two teeth, an inlay is especially ideal over a direct composite filling since they are much better at sealing teeth to keep out bacteria. Inlays and onlays are also an incredibly stable restorative solution for the treatment of tooth decay. The superior fit and durable material make inlays and onlays a stable choice that can actually strengthen a damaged tooth.

If you are considering different treatment options for your smile in order to repair tooth decay or damaged fillings, or even if you just have questions about Inlays and Onlays, please feel free to contact the office of Scott Young, D.D.S. to set up an appointment or consultation. Dr. Young and his team serve The Woodlands, Houston, Kingwood, Spring, and Conroe areas.

Dr. Scott Young, DDS

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