If you’ve been to the dentist for a cavity, it’s likely that you’ve heard something about dental inlays and dental onlays. You might be wondering what these are, and how they might help your teeth. Simply put, inlays and onlays are alternatives to a traditional filling. While a dental inlay strengthens the structure of your tooth, a dental onlay covers the complete cusp of a tooth, protecting the biting surface. Additionally, inlays and onlays aren’t made in the doctor’s office, but in a lab, which means scheduling more than one visit to complete the procedure. To understand why someone might choose a two-visit procedure instead of a filling, you first have to understand why fillings aren’t always the best solution.
Why fillings aren’t always best
A filling is a dental repair intended to stop tooth decay or repair a break in the tooth. The issue starts with a pit in your tooth. Most commonly, this pit is a place of decay. It’s where plague built up, wearing away the enamel. This results in a weak spot and a pit in the tooth. Normally, this happens on the side of a tooth. Particularly, cavities are common between teeth, where it’s more difficult to brush. That’s why flossing is recommended. However, cavities can also form on the cusp of teeth. This is the top of the tooth that’s used as a biting and chewing surface.
The cusp of the tooth has to stand up to enormous amounts of pressure. Even casually chewing exerts a lot of force on our teeth as we grind food into a paste. A filling is weaker than the tooth around it. Healthy tooth enamel is stronger than a porcelain or even silver amalgam filling. When you bite down on a filling, all the force is channeled into one spot on your tooth instead of being spread easily over the entire tooth. Fillings on biting surfaces can actually break the tooth around them, defeating the purpose of filling in the cavity in the first place.
The advantages of a dental inlay
A dental inlay is used when the damage to your tooth is on the cusp of your tooth. A dental inlay can be made of gold, or tooth-colored composite resin and similar materials. These materials are lab-shaped to fit perfectly onto your tooth. Placing a strong dental inlay instead of an amalgam filling can increase your bite strength, reducing the risk that chewing or biting will break your teeth. A dental inlay is also both less invasive and cheaper than a crown.
How a dental onlay protects your teeth
A dental onlay is a great alternative to a crown, especially if a large portion of the chewing surface of your tooth is damaged. A dental onlay fits over the damaged section of the tooth. It’s specifically created to fit your tooth, and bond to the remaining tooth. This often leads to teeth that are stronger than they would be with a crown. A crown requires the dentist to drill away and shape undamaged portions of the tooth to fit under the crown. A dental onlay can be placed over healthy tooth enamel, leaving more of your original tooth intact.
Inlays and onlays are alternatives to amalgam fillings. They can provide more structural integrity and less damage to your natural tooth than fillings. If you have damage to a chewing portion of your teeth, ask about inlays and onlays. You could strengthen your teeth.