When half or more of a tooth’s biting surface is damaged, a dentist will often use an inlay or onlay to restore it.
What Are Inlays & Onlays?
Inlays and onlays can be made of ceramic, gold, or composite resin. (Also refer to the section on Ceramic Tooth-colored Restorations). These restorations are bonded, in the case of ceramic or composite resin restorations, or cemented in the case of gold restorations to restore the damaged area of the tooth. An inlay (which is similar to a filling) is used inside the cusp tips of the tooth. An onlay is a more substantial reconstruction, similar to the inlay, but extending out over one or more of the cusps of the tooth.
Traditionally, gold has been the material of choice for inlays and onlays. In recent years, however, ceramic has become increasingly popular due to its strength and color that can potentially match the natural color of your teeth.
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How Are Dental Inlays and Onlays Applied?
Gold inlays and onlays require two appointments to complete while ceramic inlays and onlays can usually be completed in one visit in our office. During the first visit, the filling being replaced or the damaged or decayed area of the tooth is removed, and the tooth is prepared for the inlay or onlay. To ensure proper fit and bite, an impression of the tooth will be taken and sent to a lab for fabrication. The impression can be taken using traditional impression material or a digital impression can be made using a special camera. This digital impression can then be sent to the lab via the internet. The doctor will then fabricate a temporary restoration for the tooth and schedule the next appointment.
At the second appointment, the temporary restoration is removed. The doctor will then make sure that the inlay or onlay fits correctly. If the fit is satisfactory, the inlay or onlay will be bonded to the tooth with a strong resin, or cemented and polished to a smooth finish.
Traditional fillings can reduce the strength of a natural tooth by up to 50 percent. As an alternative, since ceramic inlays and onlays are bonded directly onto the tooth using special high-strength resins, they can actually increase the strength of a tooth by up to 75 percent. As a result, they can last from 10 to 30 years. In some cases where the damage to the tooth is not extensive enough to merit an entire crown, onlays can provide a very good alternative.