Have you ever heard it said that it’s always best to maintain as much healthy tooth structure as possible? This is absolutely true, but when it comes to repairing your teeth, you still may have only heard about two options: dental fillings and dental crowns. These treatments are incredibly common and effective ways to repair damaged teeth, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses.
Dental fillings are ideal for smaller spots of decay or damage on your tooth, but large fillings can weaken your tooth too much. In contrast, dental crowns can be the key to saving teeth that have experienced severe damage, but they require extensive dental work because they cover your entire natural tooth. So what do you do if neither option fits your exact needs? Well, don’t worry—there’s actually a middle ground!
Inlays and onlays provide a great solution if your teeth have suffered mild to moderate damage or if you’re looking for a more durable solution than dental fillings can offer. Despite how effective inlays and onlays can be, you may not have heard of them before. So what are they and how do they compare to other treatments? We’ve prepared a breakdown of inlays and onlays to help you understand whether or not one of these is right for you.
Inlays and onlays are very similar because both cover more of your tooth than a typical dental filling while leaving more healthy tooth structure intact than a dental crown does. That said, inlays and onlays still function differently and cover different parts of your tooth. Inlays are placed in the indented area at the center of the tooth’s cusps, which is a term for the raised edges along its chewing surface. Onlays are sometimes called “partial crowns” because they cover more of your tooth to treat more extensive damage.
Like inlays, they cover the center of your tooth, but they also extend to one or more of its cusps. Inlays and onlays are cemented into place much like dental crowns are, creating a seal that protects your tooth from future decay.
Inlays and onlays can be made from porcelain, metals, or composite resin. Today, they’re most often made from porcelain because the material provides an ideal balance of durability, strength, and natural appearance. Porcelain is milled to match the shape of your natural tooth and tinted to match its color and gloss, which allows it to blend perfectly with your natural smile. It’s also incredibly durable, with the potential to last 20 years or more if you care for it using a regular, thorough oral hygiene routine.
The most common dental issue that inlays and onlays are used to treat is decay. When a cavity is too large for a dental filling to address effectively but too small to warrant a dental crown, an inlay or onlay can provide a long-lasting solution that preserves as much of your natural, healthy tooth as possible while protecting it from future damage. Even though you may not have heard of them before, this makes inlays and onlays ideal solutions for many people!
Similarly, when a molar has been chipped, cracked, or suffers a relatively minor break, an inlay or onlay can once again repair and protect it while preserving healthy tooth structure. If you habitually clench or grind your teeth, an inlay or onlay may be a better option than a dental filling simply because they’re more durable. You will still want to take steps to limit the habit, but the porcelain of inlays and onlays is able to withstand more pressure than the resin that makes up dental fillings.
Inlays and onlays are considered restorative treatments because they’re designed specifically to repair and protect teeth that have suffered damage due to decay or an injury. Since porcelain inlays and onlays are so good at blending in with your smile, however, they’re also a cosmetic treatment in many ways. They’ll restore not just the health and function of your tooth, but its appearance as well!
Many insurance companies consider inlays and onlays to be restorative dentistry treatments, however, so they’re often either completely or partially covered by dental insurance. How much your insurance will cover depends upon your individual company and plan, but you shouldn’t have to pay for the entire treatment out-of-pocket like you might have to with purely cosmetic treatments.
Dental veneers are thin sheets of porcelain that are adhered to the front of your teeth to restore or transform their appearance. They can also be used to restore slightly cracked or chipped teeth and to resolve tooth sensitivity from enamel erosion, but veneers are primarily considered a cosmetic procedure. Although inlays, onlays, and veneers can all be used to improve the appearance of your teeth and treat injuries such as cracks and chips, even these similarities contain plenty of differences.
Since veneers are applied to the front of your teeth, they can’t resolve issues on their cusps or chewing surface. As a result, they’re designed to treat the teeth towards the front of your mouth rather than your molars. In contrast, inlays and onlays are designed to treat molars.
Dental fillings and dental crowns are great treatment options when you need them, but inlays and onlays provide a middle ground that’s certainly worth looking into. When they’re an option, they provide natural, long-lasting results that protect as much of your natural tooth structure as possible—which is better for your oral health in the long run. If you’d like to learn more about whether or not inlays or onlays would be a good fit for you, you can call and schedule an appointment at our office at any time.