The Difference Between Dental Onlays and Inlays

Dentists use dental onlays and inlays to repair damaged teeth. The two restoration methods are different in some ways while sharing some features. Learn the differences between the two, along with the similarities these restoration techniques have.

Dental inlays vs. dental onlays

Dental inlays and onlays are referred to as indirect fillings since both restoration options are made in a lab and then bonded to the tooth. While inlays and onlays repair different parts of the tooth, they also have lots in common.

Placement of dental inlays and onlays

Dental inlays are placed in between the cusps of the tooth. Inlays fill the space in the middle of the tooth, filling in the hollowed-out area caused by dental decay.

Onlays also cover the center of the tooth, but they extend to cover at least one of the tooth’s cusps. Onlays are recommended when the tooth has moderate to severe decay or damage and needs additional support.

The procedure

The procedure for dental inlays and onlays is the same. In both cases, the dentist will need to prepare the tooth. The decay must be removed from the tooth. But unlike a dental crown, most of the tooth’s structure remains.

After the decay is removed, the dentist will take impressions and place a temporary inlay or onlay. The impressions are sent off to a laboratory where the inlay or onlay is customized to the patient’s tooth. It typically takes a week for the inlay or onlay to come back from the dental laboratory. The patient comes back to the office and has the temporary inlay or onlay removed. The dentist checks the fit of the inlay or onlay and then uses a strong resin to bond it into place. The inlay or onlay is polished to smooth it out.

Tooth strength after the procedure

Tooth strength is always a serious concern when getting restoration work done. If possible, patients want to maintain as much strength as possible to reduce the risk of losing their natural teeth. Traditional fillings actually weaken the teeth, but inlays and onlays make teeth stronger. The tooth can become up to 75 percent stronger with inlays and outlays, while fillings might reduce the strength by as much as 50 percent.

Materials used for onlays and inlays

In the past, dental inlays and onlays were made of gold. Now, these restorations are typically made of porcelain. This allows the dentist to match the restoration to the tooth while providing additional durability. Dental inlays and onlays are so durable that they last for up to 30 years.

Choosing between dental onlays and inlays

If you need to repair the center of your tooth, an inlay is a good option, but if the cusps are also damaged, you will need to get an onlay. Regardless of the option you choose, the dentist will prepare the tooth, take impressions and send the impressions to a lab. The lab will make the restoration and send it back to the dentist for it to be fitted. Once fitted, it will provide strength and durability to your tooth.

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