Dental Inlays and Onlays

Do you have a cavity? If it is small, your dentist may fill it. If the cavity is deep inside the tooth or fractured, you may need a crown. Inlays and onlays are used when a filling isn't enough, but a crown is too extensive.

What is a Dental Inlay?

Inlays are sometimes used to replace a small amount of lost tooth structure due to decay. Inlays fit inside the tooth. They are often used to repair tooth damage on chewing surfaces.

What is a Dental Onlay?

An onlay is similar to an inlay but is more extensive. In addition to covering the inside of the tooth, an onlay also covers the tooth cusp (pointed or raised surfaces) to protect the tooth.

Your dentist may recommend an onlay when more than 50% of the chewing surface is damaged.

What is the Difference Between a Dental Inlay and an Onlay?

The main difference is an inlay fills in smaller spaces, but an onlay covers a larger area, including one or more tooth cusps.

Advantages of Inlays and Onlays

  • Inlays and onlays are very durable and stable, providing years of use
  • Make cleaning your teeth easier
  • Porcelain inlays and onlays are stain-resistant
  • Can prolong the life of a tooth and may help avoid the need for future treatment
  • Can replace amalgam (silver) fillings for a more natural appearance
  • Add strength to a damaged tooth by saving as much of the healthy tooth as possible

What are Inlays and Onlays Made of?

Inlays and onlays are commonly crafted from porcelain, gold, or composite resin. Porcelain is a popular choice as the inlay or onlay can be made to match the color of your natural teeth.

How Much Does an Inlay or Onlay Cost?

Inlay and onlays cost more than fillings. An onlay may cost more than an inlay because of the amount of restoration required. Your costs will depend on:

  • The type of material the dentist uses (porcelain, composite resin, or gold)
    • Porcelain is the most expensive
    • Composite resin costs less than porcelain but may discolor and/or wear out over time
    • Gold is the most affordable option but is more noticeable
  • How much decay or damage the tooth has; if the decay is deep or covers a sizeable area, the procedure may cost more
  • The dentist's years of professional experience
  • Where the tooth is located

Is Getting an Inlay or Onlay Painful?

Your dentist will numb the area with a local anesthetic to alleviate any pain. Talk with your dentist about any concerns you may have about the procedure.

What to Expect When You Get an Inlay or Onlay

Getting an inlay or onlay usually requires two dental appointments. During the two appointments, you can expect:

  1. First, your dentist may administer a local anesthetic to ensure you are comfortable during the procedure
  2. Next, your dentist will remove tooth decay and any old or worn filling material
  3. Once the decay and/or filling material are removed, the dentist will shape the space to prepare it for an inlay or onlay
  4. The dentist will make an impression of the tooth; the impression is sent to a dental lab, which will make your inlay or onlay
  5. Temporary material will be applied to the tooth to help seal it between appointments; then it's time to schedule the next appointment
  6. During the second visit, the temporary material will be removed, and the dentist will check the inlay or onlay for a proper fit
  7. If the fit is correct, the dentist will bond the inlay or onlay to the tooth using a resin material and then polish the surface to a smooth finish

If you're interested in learning more about dental inlays and onlays, and what treatments and materials are best for you, talk with your dentist.

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