Teeth are very strong, but unfortunately, they are still vulnerable to damage and decay. If they are affected with a cavity, a dental filling is most commonly used to treat it. If a tooth has been affected by more severe damage, such as a fracture, a crown will most likely be used to restore it. However, sometimes the extent of the damage falls somewhere in between, when a filling is not enough to treat the problem, but a crown is too big a treatment (it requires part of the tooth to be shaved down). In these cases, a dental inlay or onlay may be used. Both types of restorations are custom-made in a dental laboratory and are used to restore a tooth’s functionality and appearance.
Inlays can be made of ceramic, porcelain, or a composite material. They are used specifically when the damage to the tooth is located in between the cusp tips (in the center of the tooth).
Dental onlays are used when the damage is located on the cusp, or edge, of the tooth. It is also used if multiple teeth have been affected.
To have either dental inlays or onlays placed, the tooth and surrounding area will first be numbed with a local anesthetic. Any decay present on the tooth will be removed. A small portion of the tooth will also be removed by drilling to make room for the inlay or onlay, but it will be a considerably smaller amount than for a crown. The tooth will then be cleaned, and an impression will be taken of the tooth, either digitally or using a putty-like material. A dental laboratory uses this impression to custom-make the inlay or onlay. At the end of the appointment, a temporary filling will be placed on the prepared tooth to keep it protected. When the restoration is completed, a second appointment to the dentist will be needed to have it bonded to the prepared tooth.
Inlays and onlays are strong and long-lasting. They are also easy to care for, simply with daily brushing and flossing.