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What are Inlays and Onlays?

Image of an Inlay

Inlays and onlays are often less discussed in the general knowledge of dentistry, but for patients in need of treatment, these options provide an excellent way to repair damage to their teeth and prevent the onset of costly surgical treatments. Both inlays and onlays are conservative treatments made to repair broken, chipped, and small cavity holes in the teeth and preserve the natural tooth structure. For patients looking to receive inlays and onlays, learn all you need to know about these dental treatment options.

Inlays vs. Onlays: The Difference

Both of these options present a unique aspect of dentistry that takes artistry and skill to perform, along with years of dental experience and education. Both require delicate consideration in the tooth’s form to mesh with the natural tooth and help replace any removed decay from the tooth from previous treatments. These options are usually presented after a dentist performed a root canal, which typically cleans the tooth’s inside to leave an infection-free tooth left behind. However, due to the exposure of the tooth’s inside, that tooth will need some form of filling or cover to protect it against future infections. For those who have opted for inlays and onlays, these are their differences:

  • Inlays – Inlays are a smaller, porcelain restoration that fits inside the cusp of the tooth. The cusps indicate the tiny bumps around the molar or the ridges along the tooth’s incisor or canines. Inlays require delicate work and care to perform and are a stronger, sturdier version of a filling.
  • Onlays – Onlays cover a larger portion of the tooth, covering both the inside and outside of the tooth. Also made out of porcelain, they cover the cusp partially and act similar to a crown. Onlays are used for larger decay areas that don’t require the removal of the tooth or the entire cusp of the tooth to be replaced with a crown.

How are Inlays and Onlays Performed?

Inlays and onlays are usually made with porcelain to match the color of your teeth and apply an inward force to the tooth’s structure to keep it in place. These restorations can last a significant number of years when properly cared for through good oral hygiene practices. Your dentists will perform either of these restorations in the following steps:

  • Clean and Prepare: Your dentist will first need to remove the decaying and damaged parts of the tooth through a root canal procedure. This procedure will be best done conservatively to protect the natural structure of the tooth.
  • Tooth Impression: Once cleaned, your dentist will form an impression of the material either using an alginate mold or a digital scan. Once completed, your dentist will send the materials to their trusted dental laboratory to prepare the development of your inlay or onlay.
  • Temporary Restoration: After cleaning, your dentist will also provide a temporary inlay or onlay fabrication to protect your tooth from infection.
  • Fitting and Bonding: Once the restoration arrives, your dentist will clean the tooth, ensure a proper fit, and bond the inlay or onlay permanently to your tooth with dental cement.

For more questions about inlays, onlays, and whether or not it’s the best option for your teeth, contact Dr. Patrick O’Malley at Sabal General Dentistry in Rockdale, TX, for more information.

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