By now, you may believe that you have heard about all types of dental restorations. You know about dental fillings and crowns. You may even know about dental implants. But there are still two restorative treatment options that do not normally receive the recognition that they deserve. They are dental inlays and onlays.
When you have tooth decay or a dental cavity, your dentist will need to remove all of the decay and create a filling in the resulting empty space. We are often able to accomplish this using a filling through the placement of a malleable material within the tooth cavity. This material then hardens into place.
One potential problem is that the cavity may be too large for a conventional filling to suffice. In cases like these, we instead use an inlay.
Inlays are somewhat like dental fillings in the sense that they fill in a decayed section of a tooth. However, with inlays, we create the fully hardened piece in a dental laboratory. Then we insert the dental inlay into the tooth using resin or cement so that it stays firmly in place.
When inlays were first used, they were all made from gold. Today’s inlays are typically created from a material that is colored like a tooth to create a more discrete and natural appearance.
Not all cavities form in the same way. Some cavities begin in a discreet area, boring down into a tooth with the dimensions of a tiny cone or column. Decay can also be spread across the top part of a tooth.
In instances like these, a dental filling or inlay will not work. There simply is insufficient tooth tissue surrounding the cavity for supporting a dental inlay or filling. In most cases, the best treatment option is a dental onlay.
The process of creating an onlay is the same as with an inlay; the piece is formed in a dental laboratory and placed within the tooth. The difference is that, unlike inlays that are placed within a tooth, onlays are within the cavity and also create a new top for the tooth.
Does this sound like a dental crown? There are some similarities, but there is one important distinction: A dental crown completely encapsulates a tooth on all sides. A dental inlay will only cover one surface.
During your first appointment, the area around the treated tooth will be numbed; decay will be removed. Your dentist will then create a mold of your tooth for the creation of the inlay or onlay.
The mold is used by a dental laboratory for the creation of your custom inlay or onlay. While you are waiting for the finished product, a temporary filling or crown will be placed on your tooth to protect it.
Your inlay or onlay will be placed during a follow-up appointment. First, your temporary filling or crown will be removed. The inlay or onlay will be checked to ensure that it fits perfectly within your tooth. Finally, we will use a special resin or dental cement to secure the inlay or onlay permanently into place. Now you are on your way with a completely restored and durable smile.