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What Are Dental Inlays and Onlays?

When more than half of the tooth’s biting surface is damaged, a dentist will often use an inlay or onlay. Inlays and onlays can be made of porcelain, gold, or composite resin. These pieces are bonded to the damaged area of the tooth, which strengthens and seals the tooth.

dentist holding tooth mold

How Are Inlays and Onlays Applied?

Inlays and onlays procedures require two different appointments. During the first visit, the filling being replaced or the damaged or decaying area of the tooth is removed, and the tooth is prepared for the inlay or onlay. Next, the dentist will take an impression of the tooth to ensure that the inlay or onlay will fit properly. This impression will be sent off for fabrication. The dentist will then apply a temporary sealant on the tooth and schedule your next appointment.

At the second appointment, the dentist will remove your temporary sealant and check to see if the inlay or onlay fits correctly. If the inlay or onlay is sufficient, the dentist will then bond the inlay or onlay to the tooth using a strong resin. To ensure that the bonded inlay or onlay is comfortable and smooth the dentist will polish it to a smooth finish.

Difference Between Inlays and Onlays

Like fillings, inlays fit inside the tooth, filling cavities and hollows in and between the cusps, while onlays provide more substantial reconstruction, filling in not only cavities but also larger areas that include the cusps. Onlays work similarly to crowns; however, they do not cover the entire surface of the tooth.

Considerations for Inlays and Onlays

Unlike traditional fillings, which can reduce the strength of a natural tooth, inlays and onlays increase the strength of a tooth by up to 75%. Due to their toughness, inlays and onlays can last 10 to 30 years.

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