Inlays & Onlays
More conservative than a crown, inlays and onlays are two methods of restoring normal tooth structure after decay or other damage. Inlays and onlays are known as indirect fillings because unlike a standard filling that is done in a dentist’s office, both are made in a laboratory and cemented or bonded to the surface of the tooth during a second visit to the dentist. And unlike standard fillings, inlays and onlays do not weaken the tooth structure, but actually strengthens it. After the procedure, the tooth can bear up to 50 to 75 percent more chewing force.
An inlay is done when the tooth structure replaced is within the cusp tips of the tooth. If the damage is more extensive and the new structure covers the entire chewing surface including one or more tooth cusps, the procedure is called an onlay.
What are the most common benefits of inlays and onlays?
Inlays and onlays are ways of repairing relatively extensive tooth decay or damage without having to replace the whole outer portion of the tooth as with a crown. Less tooth material is removed so inlays and onlays tend to be more conservative and esthetic than crowns. Unlike fillings, these procedures strengthen a tooth’s structure. They also tend to last longer than a filling, because the inlay or onlay material is custom made and bonded to the tooth.
How is the procedure performed?
Using the impression, a laboratory prepares the new tooth surface using gold, porcelain, or composite resin. Upon return to the dentist’s office, the temporary restoration is removed and the surface is cleaned to prepare for the new structure. The dentist will then try in the new restoration to ensure that there is a correct fit that doesn’t interfere with your bite. If the fit is good, using special cement or bonding, the inlay or onlay is permanently attached to the tooth. Some minor adjustment may need to be made to the restoration if there are interferences. To finish the procedure, the dentist will polish the cemented or bonded structure and tooth.
How long does the procedure take?
Generally the procedure takes 2 appointments. Each visit will take about one hour, although the first appointment tends to be longer with an onlay as more tooth structure is removed.
How much pain is there?
Local anesthesia takes care of the pain that would occur with the preparation of the tooth. Residual pain after the preparation or after cementing the structure in place is relatively rare, and can usually be taken care of using over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin or acetaminophen.
What can I expect after the procedure?
After the procedure there may be a little discomfort with the inlay or onlay, but many people adapt immediately to the new chewing surfaces. Sometimes the tissue around the work is sore or the tooth is temporarily sensitive to cold or hot foods. These minor problems should resolve themselves in one or two days.
What is the recovery period like?
Recovery is often immediate, with any discomfort taken care of using over-the-counter medicines.
The ideal candidate will have too much damage or decay to be treated using a filling, but enough healthy tooth left that a crown is unnecessary.