Dental onlays and inlays are used to fill and repair a tooth after a cavity is drilled and treated. They are made of porcelain and they work like a cross between a filling and a crown, combining the best parts of these two treatment options. The following guide can help answer some of your questions about this treatment option.
Question #1: What is the difference between an inlay and an onlay?
Answer: Both inlays and onlays are made from dental porcelain and they are both alternatives to metal fillings. The difference is where they are placed. The top of your tooth has ridges or bumps, called cusps. An onlay is used to cover over the cusps, while an inlay is a porcelain filling that sits in the space between cusps. The one you need depends on where the dentist needs to repair the tooth after the cavity removal.
Question #2: Will they be noticeable?
Answer: Your dentist will tint the porcelain so that it matches your natural tooth color. Porcelain doesn't discolor as easy as your natural teeth, though, so you will need to keep up with regular cleanings to ensure your teeth and the inlay or onlay continue to match. There is also no visible seam where the onlay or inlay meets your natural tooth surface, so with proper dental hygiene they are a completely invisible repair.
Question #3: Do they offer advantages over metal fillings?
Answer: The most obvious advantage is that, unlike obvious metal fillings, they are not visible. Metal can also cause damage to your teeth. Metal expands and contracts in response to cold or heat. This can put pressure on the tooth and cause it to eventually crack. This also makes metal fillings more prone to loosening and coming out over time. Porcelain doesn't react in this manner, so it is of no concern.
Question #4: Can the procedure be done in one visit?
Answer: Generally, no, although some dentists may have the ability to form the inlays or onlays in office. Normally you will have one visit where the dentist drills out the cavity, preps the tooth surface, and makes a mold of your tooth. The dentist will also take photos to help create a color match. They will then order an inlay or onlay to be made in a separate lab. You will be fitted with a temporary crown until the new inlay or onlay arrives in a few days. At this time, your dentist will put it in place. Usually, no further care is necessary after this.
If you have more questions are are interested in porcelain inlays or onlays, contact Dr. David K. Skeels or your local dentist.