When You Need Inlays and Onlays

Taking care of your teeth is very important. Sometimes, despite our best efforts to brush and floss every day, our teeth can still develop problems like cavities. When this happens, a dentist might suggest different treatments to fix the issue. Two common treatments for damaged teeth are inlays and onlays. But what are they, and how do you know which one you need? 

When You Need Inlays and Onlays

What Are Inlays and Onlays?

Inlays and onlays are both types of dental restorations. This means we use them to repair teeth that have been damaged by decay or injury. They are similar to fillings. However, they are stronger and last longer. They are made in a dental lab from materials like porcelain, gold, or composite resin. We custom-make each to fit your tooth perfectly.

Inlays: An inlay fits into the grooves of a tooth but does not cover the cusps (the raised points on the chewing surface of a tooth). In other words, we use an inlay when the damage is within the indented top surface of the tooth and does not extend to the edges.

Onlays: When the damage is more extensive and includes one or more cusps of the tooth, we use an onlay. An onlay covers a larger area than an inlay. You can think of it as a partial crown.

When Do You Need an Inlay?

If you have a cavity that is located on the top surface of your tooth but does not extend to the cusps, an inlay might be the best option. This type of cavity can often be too large for a regular filling. Yet, it doesn’t require the full coverage of an onlay.

Inlays can help strengthen teeth weakened by decay or injury. From strong materials, inlays provide more support than regular fillings.

Sometimes, old fillings can wear out or crack. If a filling needs to be replaced and the cavity is still contained within the grooves of the tooth, an inlay can be a durable and effective solution.

When Do You Need an Onlay?

If your tooth has extensive decay or damage that includes one or more cusps, an onlay is necessary. Onlays cover a larger area of the tooth and can provide the support needed to restore function and appearance.

When a tooth is significantly weakened, an onlay can help prevent further damage. Because onlays cover more of the tooth’s surface, they can protect it from cracking or breaking in the future.

In some cases, we can use an onlay instead of a crown. While crowns cover the entire tooth, onlays are less invasive because they only cover the damaged parts. This means we can preserve more of your natural tooth structure.

The Process of Getting Inlays and Onlays

Getting an inlay or onlay typically involves two visits to the dentist:

First Visit: During the first visit, the dentist will remove the damaged or decayed part of the tooth. They will then take an impression of the tooth, which is sent to a dental lab where the inlay or onlay is made. Before you leave, the dentist will place a temporary filling to protect the tooth.

Second Visit: Once the inlay or onlay is ready, you will return to the dentist. They will remove the temporary filling and place the inlay or onlay, checking to ensure it fits perfectly. Finally, the dentist will bond the inlay or onlay to the tooth with a special adhesive.