When a tooth requires restoration due to a cavity or decay, inlays and onlays offer an alternative to traditional white or silver fillings. Unlike a filling that the dentist does directly in a patient’s mouth, inlays and onlays are indirect restorations created outside the mouth and placed in at the time of restoration. In certain situations, inlays and onlays have advantages over other minor restoration treatments
Inlays and onlays explained
For an inlay, the restoration goes inside the tooth, but for an onlay, the restoration receives bonding to the top of the tooth and can replace some or all tooth cusps. It’s common for a dentist to restore teeth with a combination of a partial inlay and partial onlay, depending on the amount of decay or the size of the existing filling they’re replacing. Inlays and onlays work best on the premolars and molars, which are the back teeth. With proper care, inlays and onlays can last longer than traditional fillings and as long as crowns at around 20 years.
Appropriate situations for an inlay and/or onlay
Inlays and onlays are applicable in various restoration situations and offer a potentially more durable solution than fillings. Situations where a dentist may suggest inlay or onlays include:
- Restoring a large cavity in a weakened tooth
- Replacing a failed filling
- Repairing cracked teeth
- Serving as an alternative to a filling or crown
- Avoiding a root canal
Although scientists continue to work on improving filling material, placing the material puts stress on the remaining tooth and can shrink or expand. Inlays fill cavities in teeth without putting pressure on the tooth, they last longer, don’t deteriorate and don’t stain as silver fillings can. Silver fillings can cause tooth fractures over time, but inlays and onlays can repair the tooth by replacing the tooth area lost to fracture without putting pressure on the remaining tooth.
Inlays and onlays as alternatives to crowns or root canals
Many dentists believe that crowns are a good, predictable way to restore a heavily damaged tooth. However, inlays and onlays can also repair large holes or failed fillings and perhaps be a better alternative as they restore long-term tooth strength while preserving more of the natural tooth. Each restoration situation is different, and it’s important that the patient and dentist understand the best solution depending on the bite, tooth remaining, state of the tooth nerves and aesthetic results. When a tooth and filling facture leaving a patient with very little tooth above the gum, inlays and onlays can be used to avoid a root canal because of continued improvements in bonding technology. If the tooth nerve remains alive and healthy, an onlay can work as a crown with an inbuilt core that has been etched and bonded securely to the tooth. If the health of the tooth nerve is uncertain, then a root canal is probably the best option.
For a tooth that has extensive decay or needs a filling repaired, inlays or onlays represent a potential solution. Contact Creative Dental to schedule an exam that can determine the best restoration option for you.